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Mary Billie cutting cardboard for the Seminole doll she is making: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Mary Billie cutting cardboard for the Seminole doll she is making: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80318a

Accompanying note: “Mary stuffs the head with pieces of palmetto fiber. 'If she uses something else like cotton, the needle won't go through that cotton. So she uses that palmetto fiber. Then she would put the palmetto fibers inside the doll to make it stand.”

“Mary often saves time by stuffing the bodies with cotton instead of fiber, 'since the body doesn't need much sewing.”

“After she finishes that, I guess she puts that cardboard and wraps that palmetto around it and put[s] it on the bottom so stuff would not come out when it stands. She'll cut that cardboard out and make a circle big enough where she stuffed it, uh, cotton. And then she'll take that palmetto fiber and put it around that cardboard where she make that circle, cut that circle. And then she'll, uh, put it on the bottom of that doll and sew it up so it can stand straight. Then she'll make the eyes for it and the mouth.”

Mary Billie wrapping palmetto fiber around cardboard for the Seminole doll she is making: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Mary Billie wrapping palmetto fiber around cardboard for the Seminole doll she is making: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80320a

Seminole woman starting to make dolls: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation (not after 1980)

Seminole woman starting to make dolls: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80321

Mary Billie sewing on the bottom of the Seminole doll she is making: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Mary Billie sewing on the bottom of the Seminole doll she is making: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80322a

Various sized Seminole dolls in the process of being made by Mary Billie: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Various sized Seminole dolls in the process of being made by Mary Billie: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80292a

Accompanying note: “She just goes ahead and cuts like some [palmetto fibers] for the four inch, and some for the six inch, and you know, the body. It's always been like that, different sizes.' From one palmetto, Mary Billie sometimes gets enough fiber for four or five dolls.”

Seminole doll in the process of being made by Mary Billie: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Seminole doll in the process of being made by Mary Billie: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80323a

Accompanying note: “This is what the doll looks like before Mary puts on its clothes, hair and jewelry. She usually makes the clothes ahead of time, so that they will be ready when she wants to make her dolls. For the smaller dolls, Mary uses simple decoration, but the clothes for the larger dolls use one or more of six traditional Seminole patchwork designs.”

Partially completed Seminole doll: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation (not after 1980)

Partially completed Seminole doll: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80325

Partially completed Seminole doll: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation (not after 1980)

Partially completed Seminole doll: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80327

Mary Billie cutting cardboard to make hair for her Seminole dolls: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Mary Billie cutting cardboard to make hair for her Seminole dolls: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80334a

Accompanying note: “She'll put the cardboard on top of the doll's head and with that black material to make it look nice, I guess. To make it look like hair. And then after she does that, she put the top on. And then she'll sew that up too, so it won't fall off.”

“Seminole women have worn their hair in various different styles over the years, and the dolls reflect this. The high hairdo, mounted with cypress bark or, later, cardboard, was popular about fifty years ago, and some of the women still wear it. But Mary also makes some dolls with yarn hair that show modern styles.”

Mary Billie sewing hair on the Seminole doll she is making: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Mary Billie sewing hair on the Seminole doll she is making: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80337a

Mary Billie putting skirt on the Seminole doll she is making: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Mary Billie putting skirt on the Seminole doll she is making: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80340a

Seminole doll made by Mary Billie being held up for the camera: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Seminole doll made by Mary Billie being held up for the camera: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80348a

Accompanying note: “The Seminole palmetto dolls require skilled workmanship and are beautiful to look at. But, more important, they are an expression of Seminole culture -- a bridge between the Seminoles and the outside world.”

Mary B. Billie making a necklace for her Seminole doll: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Mary B. Billie making a necklace for her Seminole doll: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80345a

Accompanying note: “The last step is making the doll's bead jewelry. The jewelry also shows a popular Seminole style of earlier times.”

“My grandmother used to do that. She used to wear a lot of beads. That's what they used to do. They would be heavy.”

“She makes the necklace and then after she does that, she goes through that head, the doll's head and then she puts the beads on there to make the earrings on both sides.”

Mary Billie and her daughter Claudia C. John holding handmade Seminole dolls : Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Mary Billie and her daughter Claudia C. John holding handmade Seminole dolls : Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80355a

Accompanying note: “The Seminole palmetto dolls require skilled workmanship and are beautiful to look at. But, more important, they are an expression of Seminole culture -- a bridge between the Seminoles and the outside world.”

Seminole dolls before and after clothes, hair and jewelry: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Seminole dolls before and after clothes, hair and jewelry: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80356a

Accompanying note: “This is what the doll looks like before Mary puts on its clothes, hair and jewelry. She usually makes the clothes ahead of time, so that they will be ready when she wants to make her dolls.”

Collection of Seminole dolls in the process of being made by Mary Billie: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Collection of Seminole dolls in the process of being made by Mary Billie: Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Florida (not after 1980)

Image number: FS80294a

Accompanying note: “Seminoles used to make dolls mainly as toys for their own children, but now Mary, like other Seminole dollmakers, depends upon the craft to earn her living. 'They were for the kids to play with at first. That's what they were making it for, for the kids to play with.”

The Florida Folklife Program

This unit includes reproductions of both the original audio and the original transcript of the interview conducted by folklorists Doris Dyan and Peggy Bulger, as well as photographs from the Seminole Slide/Tape Project. These materials were produced by the Florida Folklife Program and are now part of the Florida Folklife Collection at the State Archives of Florida.

At the time of the interview, Bulger was chief administrator for the Florida Folklife Program. Today, she serves as the Director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Dyen is currently the Director of Cultural Conservation for the River of Steel National Heritage Area in Pennsylvania.