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Worldly treasures

Hanover’s Seifert creates home
for her international doll collection

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(October 2007) – For many years, Ralph and Margaret Seifert of Hanover, Ind., traveled the world and experienced the rich diversity of other cultures. Everywhere they traveled, they looked for a piece of that particular culture to bring home to share.

Margaret Seifert

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Margaret Seifert plans to open
a museum and cultural education
center in a downtown Madison
historic home to house her
vast collection of dolls.

Now close to 5,000 hand-made dolls and pieces of folk art are waiting to be placed in a new museum that will soon occupy a historic building in downtown Madison, Ind.
The Seifert-Short Museum, which will be a folk art and education center, will be housed in a newly renovated historic home at 301 Broadway, next to the Livery Stable. A collection of 300 nativity sets from around the world will be the first display in the new museum, along with a Christmas tree featuring more than 500 ornaments from around the world. Things should be in place for the museum to be situated as a hospitality site during the holiday season’s candlelight homes tour, Seifert said.
The museum was the brainchild of the late Ralph Seifert, a retired Hanover College professor. But he never saw his idea come to fruition. He died Oct. 26, 2006, after a hard-fought battle with cancer. Margaret put the project on hold during Ralph’s illness but recently decided to push forward with it.
“We believe the way you bring about peace is for people to understand other cultures,” said Margaret, director of support services for academics at Ivy Tech Community College. “Since we do not have a lot of diversity in our area, we bought each item with the intention of putting them in some sort of cultural education setting.”
The vast majority of the items are dolls made by the people of a particular country from natural surroundings, and they reflect the culture of the region. For example, one nativity set from Czechoslovakia is made with corn husks, which are widely used for a variety of things in that country. A Kenyan doll dressed in native clothing was made from banana fibers. A Spanish nativity set has the Holy family wearing traditional Spanish clothing and hairstyles.

Margaret Seifert dolls

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Several dolls from
the Orient are waiting
to be photographed, referenced and
cataloged.

There are dolls of every shape and size, with every ethnicity and made from numerous natural products. There are carved wooden dolls, porcelain dolls, wooden animals, puppets, dolls on sticks, and almost any other type of doll imaginable.
More than 1,000 bisque and porcelain antique dolls were given to the Seiferts by a relative, Mary Short, which is why the museum will include her name. Other dolls and folk art that weren’t collected when the Seiferts traveled were acquired by them through museum shops and fair trade agencies, which purchase goods for fair prices from villagers.
There is also an extensive collection of needlework from around the world to accompany many of the doll collections.
A beautiful hand-woven white and green wall hanging from China depicts a young girl in the traditional Chinese garb feeding her flocks. The Seiferts found that particular piece hanging in a restaurant in China.
“Children understand other children through common bonds,” said Margaret Seifert. “Ethnic dolls, toys and artifacts are tools children can relate to that can help explain cultural differences.”
With help from several college students, including Hanover College anthropology major Molly Bowling and Wellesley College art history major Caroline Huber, all of the dolls and folk art are being catalogued and tagged with international country codes. The items are also being photographed and referenced into a database that will eventually be housed in the museum. Visitors will be able to use computer learning centers or kiosks to find information about each item in a display.
Seifert also envisions a mini docent system set up at the museum in which interested youths are trained to work as guides and information specialists. “Young people teaching each other and yet learning at the same time works well,” she said.

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