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A doll is a model typically of a human or humanoid character, often used as a toy for children. Dolls have also been used in traditional religious rituals throughout the world. Traditional dolls made of materials such as clay and wood are found in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe. The earliest documented dolls go back to the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. They have been made as crude, rudimentary playthings as well as elaborate art. Modern doll manufacturing has its roots in Germany, from the 15th century. With industrialization and new materials such as porcelain and plastic, dolls were increasingly mass-produced. During the 20th century, dolls became increasingly popular as collectibles.




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The earliest dolls were made from available materials such as clay, stone, wood, bone, ivory, leather, or wax. Archaeological evidence places dolls as the foremost candidate for the oldest known toy. Wooden paddle dolls have been found in Egyptian tombs dating to as early as the 21st century BC.[1] Dolls with movable limbs and removable clothing date back to at least 200 BC. Archaeologists have discovered Greek dolls made of clay and articulated at the hips and shoulders.[1][2] Rag dolls and stuffed animals were probably also popular, but no known examples of these have survived to the present day.[2] Stories from ancient Greece around 100 AD show that dolls were used by little girls as playthings.[1] In ancient Rome, dolls were made of clay, wood or ivory. Dolls have been found in the graves of Roman children. Like children today, the younger members of Roman civilization would have dressed their dolls according to the latest fashions. In Greece and Rome, it was customary for boys to dedicate their toys to the gods when they reached puberty and for girls to dedicate their toys to the goddesses when they married.[1][2] Rag dolls are traditionally home-made from spare scraps of cloth material. Roman rag dolls have been found dating back to 300 BC.[3]


Traditional dolls are sometimes used as children's playthings, but they may also have spiritual, magical and ritual value. There is no defined line between spiritual dolls and toys. In some cultures dolls that had been used in rituals were given to children. They were also used in children's education and as carriers of cultural heritage. In other cultures dolls were considered too laden with magical powers to allow children to play with them.[4]


African dolls are used to teach and entertain; they are supernatural intermediaries, and they are manipulated for ritual purposes. Their shape and costume vary according to region and custom. Dolls are frequently handed down from mother to daughter. Akuaba are wooden ritual fertility dolls from Ghana and nearby areas. The best known akuaba are those of the Ashanti people, whose akuaba have large, disc-like heads. Other tribes in the region have their own distinctive style of akuaba.


The use of an effigy to perform a spell on someone is documented in African, Native American, and European cultures. Examples of such magical devices include the European poppet and the nkisi or bocio of West and Central Africa. In European folk magic and witchcraft, poppet dolls are used to represent a person for casting spells on that person. The intention is that whatever actions are performed upon the effigy will be transferred to the subject through sympathetic magic. The practice of sticking pins in voodoo dolls have been associated with African-American Hoodoo folk magic. Voodoo dolls are not a feature of Haitian Vodou religion, but have been portrayed as such in popular culture, and stereotypical voodoo dolls are sold to tourists in Haiti. Likely the voodoo doll concept in popular culture is influenced by the European poppet.[5] A kitchen witch is a poppet originating in Northern Europe. It resembles a stereotypical witch or crone and is displayed in residential kitchens as a means to provide good luck[6] and ward off bad spirits.[7]


Hopi Kachina dolls are effigies made of cottonwood that embody the characteristics of the ceremonial Kachina, the masked spirits of the Hopi Native American tribe. Kachina dolls are objects meant to be treasured and studied in order to learn the characteristics of each Kachina. Inuit dolls are made out of soapstone and bone, materials common to the Inuit. Many are clothed with animal fur or skin. Their clothing articulates the traditional style of dress necessary to survive cold winters, wind, and snow. The tea dolls of the Innu people were filled with tea for young girls to carry on long journeys. Apple dolls are traditional North American dolls with a head made from dried apples. In Inca mythology, Sara Mama was the goddess of grain. She was associated with maize that grew in multiples or was similarly strange. These strange plants were sometimes dressed as dolls of Sara Mama. Corn husk dolls are traditional Native American dolls made out of the dried leaves or husk of a corncob.[8] Traditionally, they do not have a face. The making of corn husk dolls was adopted by early European settlers in the United States.[9] Early settlers also made rag dolls and carved wooden dolls, called Pennywoods.[10] La última muñeca, or "the last doll", is a tradition of the Quinceañera, the celebration of a girl's fifteenth birthday in parts of Latin America. During this ritual the quinceañera relinquishes a doll from her childhood to signify that she is no longer in need of such a toy.[11] In the United States, dollmaking became an industry in the 1860s, after the Civil War.[12]


Matryoshka dolls are traditional Russian dolls, consisting of a set of hollow wooden figures that open up and nest inside each other. They typically portray traditional peasants and the first set was carved and painted in 1890.[13] In Germany, clay dolls have been documented as far back as the 13th century, and wooden doll making from the 15th century.[14] Beginning about the 15th century, increasingly elaborate dolls were made for Nativity scene displays, chiefly in Italy.[15] Dolls with detailed, fashionable clothes were sold in France in the 16th century, though their bodies were often crudely constructed.[16] The German and Dutch peg wooden dolls were cheap and simply made and were popular toys for poorer children in Europe from the 16th century.[17] Wood continued to be the dominant material for dolls in Europe until the 19th century.[18] Through the 18th and 19th centuries, wood was increasingly combined with other materials, such as leather, wax and porcelain and the bodies made more articulate.[18] It is unknown when dolls' glass eyes first appeared, but brown was the dominant eye color for dolls up until the Victorian era when blue eyes became more popular, inspired by Queen Victoria.[19]


Dolls, puppets and masks allow ordinary people to state what is impossible in the real situation;[20] In Iran for example during Qajar era, people criticised the politics and social conditions of Ahmad-Shah's reign via puppetry without any fear of punishment.[21] According to the Islamic rules, the act of dancing in public especially for women, is a taboo. But dolls or puppets have free and independent identities and are able to do what is not feasible for the real person. Layli is a hinged dancing doll, which is popular among the Lur people of Iran.[22][23] The name Layli is originated from the Middle East folklore and love story, Layla and Majnun. Layli is the symbol of the beloved who is spiritually beautiful.[24] Layli also represents and maintains a cultural tradition, which is gradually vanishing in urban life.


During the 19th century, dolls' heads were often made of porcelain and combined with a body of leather, cloth, wood, or composite materials, such as papier-mâché or composition, a mix of pulp, sawdust, glue and similar materials.[25][26] With the advent of polymer and plastic materials in the 20th century, doll making largely shifted to these materials. The low cost, ease of manufacture, and durability of plastic materials meant new types of dolls could be mass-produced at a lower price. The earliest materials were rubber and celluloid. From the mid-20th century, soft vinyl became the dominant material, in particular for children's dolls.[27][28] Beginning in the 20th century, both porcelain and plastic dolls are made directly for the adult collectors market. Synthetic resins such as polyurethane resemble porcelain in texture and are used for collectible dolls.


Colloquially the terms porcelain doll, bisque doll and china doll are sometimes used interchangeably. But collectors make a distinction between china dolls, made of glazed porcelain, and bisque dolls, made of unglazed bisque or biscuit porcelain. A typical antique china doll has a white glazed porcelain head with painted molded hair and a body made of cloth or leather. The name comes from china being used to refer to the material porcelain. They were mass-produced in Germany, peaking in popularity between 1840 and 1890 and selling in the millions.[29][30][31] Parian dolls were also made in Germany, from around 1860 to 1880. They are made of white porcelain similar to china dolls but the head is not dipped in glaze and has a matte finish.[32] Bisque dolls are characterized by their realistic, skin-like matte finish. They had their peak of popularity between 1860 and 1900 with French and German dolls. Antique German and French bisque dolls from the 19th century were often made as children's playthings, but contemporary bisque dolls are predominantly made directly for the collectors market.[25][31][33] Realistic, lifelike wax dolls were popular in Victorian England.[34]


Up through the middle of the 19th century, European dolls were predominantly made to represent grown-ups. Childlike dolls and the later ubiquitous baby doll did not appear until around 1850.[31][35] But, by the late 19th century, baby and childlike dolls had overtaken the market.[31] By about 1920, baby dolls typically were made of composition with a cloth body. The hair, eyes, and mouth were painted. A voice box was sewn into the body that cried ma-ma when the doll was tilted, giving them the name Mama dolls. During 1923, 80% of all dolls sold to children in the United States were Mama dolls.[36][unreliable source]


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