Exhibit showing antique dolls of color is one of several local programs planned for Black History Month

“History Through Dolls of Color: Silent Witnesses in Time” is the newest pop-up exhibit at the Suffolk County Historical Society in Riverhead, just in time for Black History Month.

The exhibit, which will be on display starting Feb. 15, will feature over 100 antique dolls of color from the early 19th to the early 21st centuries. Artist and collector April Marius curated the exhibit and has been collecting dolls for nearly 30 years. Pieces from her collection include Victorian porcelain dolls, wax dolls and Topsy Turvy Dolls, which date back to the 1800’s, are double ended and typically feature multiple characters with one end of the doll being white and black on the other end, “My favorite dolls are from 1880 through 1920,” Ms. Marius said. “That’s when dolls were just amazing.”

The Freeport resident began her collection nearly 30 years ago and has since amassed more than 500 dolls. She’s passionate about sharing the historical significance the toys hold, telling stories about different people, eras and ways of life.

One portion of the exhibit will highlight how, historically, dolls for people of color were made differently than dolls for white people, as racist caricatures. “A lot of the dolls that were made back then … they were horrible, they were derogatory dolls,” Ms. Marius said. “This is one of the things that I do teach because it’s amazing when you really look at it and you see how beautiful the dolls ended up turning into through time.”

Two dolls from Ms. Marius’ collection. (Courtesy photos)

Antique dolls depicting people of color are rare as there weren’t many created to begin with, and very few have survived through time.

Many women of color have shared memories that as children, they didn’t have dolls that looked like them.

“This is something that a lot of people really don’t realize, why children identify with dolls,” Ms. Marius said. “This is how they’re trained to take care of other children, to be a sister, to be a good kid. They have little dolls, and they’re playing with them … well these children didn’t have that and the dolls that they had — the images that they had — were so negative.”

Portions of Ms. Marius’ collection have been exhibited in various museums, including the African American Museum in Hempstead and Phillips House Museum in Rockville Centre.

The exhibit will be on display in the historical society’s Gish Gallery from Feb. 15 to 17 and Feb. 22 to 25. The gallery is open Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

A special lecture by Ms. Marius on understanding history through dolls of color will be held on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 1 p.m. The lecture is free for society members and $8 for nonmembers and includes refreshments. Call 631-727-2881 for reservations. More of Ms. Marius’ collection can be viewed by visiting her website,

Eleven Shelter Island students created this art work honoring Congressman John Lewis for his contribution to American history in this year’s East End Arts Portrait Project. Works will be sold at auction to raise money for the East End Arts Scholarship Fund. (Courtesy photo)

Several other events to honor Black History Month are planned in the area.

The African American Educational and Cultural Festival has produced a special exhibit on the Harlem Renaissance that will be on display for the entire month of February at the Riverhead Free Library.

Riverhead High School will host its annual Black History Month celebration on Thursday, Feb. 16, at 6 p.m. in the Charles Cardona Auditorium.

On Saturday, Feb. 18, East End Arts will unveil this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait Project at the East End Food Market located at 139 Main Road in Riverhead.

The unique community project was launched in 2021 and tasks students from local schools with creating individual works of art that are combined into a single 16-panel mosaic in honor Dr. King and other civil rights leaders and influential artists . This year, area students created 15 four-by-four-foot mosaics that depict icons including Mahalia Jackson, Rosa Parks, Sam Cooke, Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, John Lewis and Aretha Franklin. The portraits will be on display at the farmer’s market every Saturday through March 4 and are also up for auction, with proceeds benefiting the East End Arts scholarship fund.