An ancient Iroquois legend begins with the three sisters of life: corn, beans and squash.
Corn was so happy to be one of the sisters, she asked her creator what else she could do to show her appreciation, and he told her to make a doll.
The resulting doll was adored by children, who constantly played with her and told her how beautiful she was, to the point that she became vain and conceited.
After being warned, the doll continued to admire her own reflection in the river until, one day, the creator became angry and sent an owl to take away her reflection.
And when the doll looked back into the river, there was nothing staring back at her — she no longer had a face.
At least, that's the story children will hear at Graue Mill and Museum's Make 'n' Take a Corn Husk Doll event, which runs noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19. The program is included with admission, which is free for children 3 and younger, $1.50 for ages 4 to 12, $3 for seniors and $3.50 for adults.
Participants will have the chance to make their own corn husk doll and learn about Native American harvest traditions and the influence of those traditions on early settlers of the area.
“Corn husk dolls were one of the things Native Americans passed on to pioneer settlers, so they were extremely popular in both cultures,” said Leslie Goddard, executive director at Graue Mill and Museum.
“The legend is whenever you make a corn husk doll, you have to make it without a face just as a reminder that no one is better than anyone else.”
Corn husks are soaked in water to make them pliable, and organizers show the children how to twist and tie the husks to make dolls, which can then be personalized.
Goddard said the program is one of the museum's most popular and attracts anywhere from 40 to 60 children.
“There's some creativity really involved in what your doll ends up looking like,” Goddard said. “It's both something that you follow the directions to make, but you also have the freedom to personalize it, and the combination of that makes it fun.”
Graue Mill was built in 1859 and served as the corn mill for residents in the area. It sat on the banks of Salt Creek, where a dam provided the water power that turned the wheel. The mill continues to operate, and those who visit the museum still can see the wheel turning, although it's now mechanically operated.
The museum provides demonstrations of early settler activities, like spinning and weaving, and houses the objects pioneers used in their daily lives.
“Everything else we have is really devoted to what living life was like in this area in the mid-19th century,” Goddard said. “It's really a step back in time.”
The creation of corn husk dolls goes back to the idea that corn was an important crop for pioneers and Native Americans, and so nothing was wasted.
“Resources were few, so you found a use for everything,” Goddard said. “That's a lesson we can still apply today.”
And that's what organizers hope to impress upon children as they make their dolls — the fact that many Native American traditions are relevant today.
“So much of Native American culture was passed on to the early American pioneers in this area, and passed down even to this generation,” Goddard said. “It's a culture that's still a part of our lives, whether we realize it or not.”
Goddard said the Graue Mill and Museum has always aimed to link present-day objects with items from the past. Everybody knows what a doll is, she said, but making that connection with what children in the past played with is important.
It's important to remember that life in the area wasn't always what it is today, she said. Early settlers couldn't just go to the store and buy corn, for example, or buy a doll at the mall.
“It's hard to understand who we are without knowing how we got there, and I think a lot of people find history intimidating,” Goddard said. “We really want people to see history as something approachable and fun. You can go as in-depth with it as you want to.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.