Ashland makes dolls, other items from cornhusks

Jan. 21—ASHLAND — Some might say Beatrice Cox’s pastime is tedious. She admits it requires patience to put together her cornhusk creations, but she’s keeping an Appalachian tradition alive.

“I have a garden and raised corn, and when you start shucking corn, you think, ‘Well, this is a waste,'” she said. “I got to thinking about my mom and my aunt. They would get crepe paper and make flowers, cut their own patterns and dip the flowers in wax and make bouquets for Memorial Day. I wondered if I could make a cornhusk doll.”

She could.

Her dolls are made with great attention to detail. For instance, the first one she made is in the style of a pre-Civil War woman after researching the attire commonly worn at the time. The doll, which she named Annabelle, is made from variegated cornhusks and has a parasol and a purse.

Because of the extensive detail and historical accuracy, such projects take two or three months to finish.

The doll’s body starts with a corn cob. Cox uses wire to make the basis for the arms. Using materials such as paper towels and cotton balls, she layers until she gets the size and shape she wants and covers the doll in cornhusks.

Some of the clothing the dolls wear is built onto the body and some is made separately and the doll is dressed, which is a challenge, as the material is delicate.

Hair is made from corn silks and she hand ties bows and dyes and cuts feathers to decorate the dolls’ clothing.

“Cornshuck dolls don’t have faces,” she explained. “If you’re going to make it, you might as well follow tradition, so I don’t give them faces.”

Cox, who is 78, is a Pike County native who attended Pikeville College to become a teacher. She has lived in Ashland for more than 50; she retired in 1998 from teaching anatomy, botany, physical science, health, biology and physiology and running the senior technical lab at Paul G. Blazer High School.

Her knowledge in science helps her accuracy in making cornhusk flowers. She said she doesn’t remember the details of how her mother and aunt made their flowers, so she developed her own way with cornhusks.

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Using a seed catalog, she said she shapes the petals and uses food coloring to dye them.

She even creates the greenery according to the images. Each leaf and petal is laid out to dry before being attached to wire and arranged.

She also has made baskets using corncobs and the dolls might be in a scene. For example, she made a bridal couple that could be used to top a wedding cake, and her piece titled “Sarah and Her Wheel” depicts a girl scotching the wheel, a game also known as stick and wheels in which the player controls the speed and direction of a wheel using a stick.

A member of the Boyd County Homemakers, her creations have won awards in the group’s annual competition on a local and regional level. “Sarah and Her Wheel” currently represents her in the homemakers’ state competition.

Not only is Cox making attractive, decorative items, she’s keeping alive an Appalachian craft.

“Growing up on a little farm, you couldn’t just go out and buy what you wanted,” Cox said, recalling growing up in Pike County. “It might take all day to go into town and find what you want and get back. There weren’t that many stores to choose from, so you quickly learned to use what you have on hand.”

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