Visitors to Duluth City Hall during the Christmas holidays and afterwards can admire a collection of nearly 100 dolls from all over the world collected by Calvin and Kate Parsons on their travels.
Calvin and Kate Parsons, pioneer retailers who opened Parsons in Duluth in 1925, traveled extensively in their later years with Kate collecting the dolls every place they visited in the 1960s and 1970s. The dolls mostly come from countries in Europe, North America, Asia, and South America. There are also a few animals in the collection, such as kangaroos and sheep from Australia and a llama from Peru.
The dolls have been cared for in recent years by their three daughters Ann Parsons Odum, Kathryn Parsons Willis and Margaret Parsons Andrews.
Originally, “she [Kate] planned to buy the dolls for the grandchildren, then she decided she would just collect them,” Odum said. “She started showing them to clubs and schools. “
After Kate Parsons died the dolls were divided between the three daughters. “We took turns choosing until they were all gone,” Odum said. “Each of us has about a third of the dolls.”
Two of Calvin and Kate’s granddaughters, Kay Montgomery and Sharon Parris, and Donna Odum, who is married to Ann’s son Ken Odum, were involved in bringing the international dolls to City Hall so they could be shared with the community.
The exhibit was Kay’s idea. “They were very inquisitive and wanted to see the world,” Montgomery said about her grandparents. “She [Kate] was careful to select dolls that were dressed to represent their country.”
Donna Odum organized the dolls by continent and countries and made labels indicating their origin. Kay added booklets about the different countries she found at a yard sale. The dolls are arranged in glass display cases on one side of the City Hall lobby.
A larger doll given to Kate Parsons by a Japanese visitor accompanies a sign announcing the exhibit in a separate smaller display case at the Main Street entrance of City Hall.
As president of the Duluth Fine Arts League, Montgomery is encouraging DFAL members and others to visit the new exhibit.
Glass display cases on the other side of the City Hall lobby are filled with 36 Madame Alexander dolls depicting Presidential First Ladies in their Inaugural Ball gowns. These dolls have been lent to the city by Donna Odum. They used to fill the both sets of cases. The First Ladies exhibit was consolidated to accommodate the international dolls.