Ellen Tsagaris’ now has a place where she can share her lifelong passion for dolls with the public, after she celebrated the ribbon-cutting for her American Doll & Toy Museum Wednesday, Feb. 12, in Rock Island.
“It’s kind of in my neighborhood. I know everybody on the Hilltop,” Tsagaris said of the College Hill neighborhood. She said she works part time for Michelle Juehring, owner of Vintage Rose, which moved to a space in the building behind her new museum.
“When she moved to that space, and this became available, I decided it would be a good fit. She’s just been a huge help,” Tsagaris said.
The 1,200 dolls, miniatures, toys and other collectibles — tightly packed into the space — represent just one-tenth of her collection, which has been in private storage.
The collection includes dolls from all over the world. Some pieces date from the 17th century, and they're made of materials ranging from porcelain and wax to wood and rubber. The average age of the dolls is 100 years, Tsagaris said.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, she quoted Anne Rice, author and doll collector: “When you love dolls, you start to love other kinds of people, too. Because you saw the virtue in their expressions, how carefully they’d been sculpted.”
The museum offers items for sale, including small dolls and antiques, craft bags, seasonal items, books, vintage figurines and toys, small trucks and action figures.
It will be open from noon to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, or by appointment.
“It’s a wonderful museum,” said Mayor Mike Thoms. “Every city needs different amenities, things to enjoy, and this is one. It’s kind of one-of-a-kind in the Quad-Cities. It’s quite an extensive collection.”
“My mother collected a lot of miniatures and dolls, and some of them are inside this store,” he said. “It means a lot to me to have them on display. My mother’s no longer with us. To have that tradition and love passed on, it means a lot.”
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Tsagaris was born in Athens, Greece (her father was in the military), but she grew up in the Quad-Cities. She’s collected dolls since she was 3.
“My family traveled everywhere; they’ve been everywhere but Antarctica,” she said. “When my dad went on business trips, and they found out his daughter collected dolls, people — like the executives at Mitsubishi — were giving him dolls to send back.”
“My whole family always collected things. I like sculpture and painting, and figure art of all types,” she said. “The dolls fit into all those areas. There were a lot of artists that used dolls for models.”
Tsagaris is the author of two books about dolls, "Bibliography of Doll and Toy Sources" and "With Love From Tin Lizzie; A History of Metal Heads, Metal Dolls, Mechanical Dolls, and Automatons."
She has exhibited some of her collection at the German American Heritage Center, the Putnam Museum, and Bettendorf library. She’s shown at craft shows and presented papers on dolls and their history at the Midwest Modern Language Association.
She is the author of several articles that have appeared in Doll Reader, National Doll World, Doll Designs, International Doll World, Hope and Glory, Doll News, Adventures, and The Western Doll Collector.
“It’s massive,” Hedy Hustedde, board member of the new museum, said of the scope of items. “And this is just a smattering of her collection.”
The museum is expected to move to the building that housed the city's former 30/31 branch library in late summer.
The 30/31 branch library, at 3059 30th St., closed Dec. 14, 2019, and the contract to sell it to the museum for $211,000 was approved last November. The building is 5,157 square feet and was built in 1955.
The city had planned to close it as part of the long-term plans for city libraries, director Angela Campbell said.
Tsagaris said she’s planned her museum for 19 years. She opened Nov. 30.