CLARKSTOWN - Helen Shook collects dolls, designs dolls, sews dolls and shows dolls.
Shook, of Clarkstown, has a collection of Raggedy Anns and Andys that has grown since her childhood, and she makes fairies of her own design that have found their way around the world.
Shook began collecting dolls as a child in Allenwood. She was the youngest of eight children by six years, and as the baby of the Williams family she had to entertain herself quite a lot.
JOSH BROKAW/Sun-Gazette Correspondent
Helen Shook, of Clarkstown, is shown with some of the dolls in her collection.
"I kind of got spoiled by my sisters - they were all pretty much grown up," Shook said. "There was a meadow by our house, and I'd make a sandwich and take my dolls and go play under the willow tree."
Shook received her first Raggedy Ann doll at 5, when she came down with rheumatic fever. Her collection now has more than 100 dolls, not including figurines, along with books in the series that date back to 1946.
A Raggedy Ann doll Shook made has toured the United States in a trunk show. Her two daughters and five granddaughters all have enjoyed dolls, and many of the Anns and Andys on Shook's shelves mark new additions to her family.
The Raggedy Ann stories stimulated Shook's imagination as a child.
"In the field, I used to imagine there were fairies under the leaves, running under them," Shook said. "Those stories really got me into fairies."
Shook now makes fairies, by hand, out of a pattern that she began designing in 1990 and copyrighted in 1993.
"The first ones don't look like they do now; they were kind of flat," Shook said. "They're muslin dressed with silk flower petals, and some of the bigger ones are made of brushed cotton. You have to trace, sew and then cut them out, then turn them, and make the faces - I hand-embroider the faces, so each one has her own personality."
Shook's fairies have traveled across the United States, some as far as Alaska, and to England and Australia. Her attention to detail shows in a quilted cloth dollhouse she made: A mushroom table and acorns, from the woods behind her home, are the house's furniture.
Shook usually takes her dolls to three shows a year.
One is in Hershey and another is in Chester County at the Waldorf School. Her fairies are on sale at Robertsons Seedlings in Philadelphia.
She has received some high praise from those who have collected her fairies. "My daughter likes them better than her Barbie dolls," said one happy mother. Another said, "If my house caught on fire I'd grab my fairies first."
About 30 wooden Polish dolls are counted in Shook's collection. They're dressed in all sorts of get-ups like maids and bell-boys and have fiber hair. She has several tiny China dolls from her mother, including one that came clothesless called a "Charlotte" doll.
"The story they told about this doll was that a girl dressed for a party, and she was too vain to put on a coat in the sleigh. She froze to death before she got there."
Shook's oldest doll, and one of her largest, is one that belonged to her mother. It has a China head on a kid leather body. The legs are jointed at the hips and knees and still work, despite being well over 100 years old.
"My poor husband Bernard puts up with all this," Shook said. "We had some friends visit, and they stayed here (in the living room) and he told me 'I didn't sleep all night - I couldn't stand all these eyes looking at me!' "
"They have smiling faces," she said. "I think they look pretty happy."