I created Abena’s Family to encourage the celebration of the physical differences among our brothers and sisters; and to help the beautifully diverse children and adults around the world find dolls that look like them. There are many shades of colors throughout every ethnicity, but I did not find this to be true among ethnic dolls. All of the shades in my immediate family could not be found in a “black doll,” yet most of them are of African descent. My Mom gave me many ragg dolls over the years and even as a young girl; I felt the need to contribute to the shades and features of ethnic dolls.
My growing collection known as Abena’s Family started as an adventure to explore and record my own rich history. My Grandfather (Curtis Belton); is a descendant of the Great Emperor Sunni Ali Ber. One of the Emperor’s descendants was captured in Ghana and forced to suffer on an unjust voyage across the Atlantic on a ship of horror. Once he arrived in America, Emperor Sunnis’ descendant (also named Sunni Ali-Ber), was bought by the Belton’s in Fairfield County, SC (slave tags above), and was renamed Sonni Belton.
My Great Grand Mother Mary Gilmore (who is full blooded Cherokee and raised my mother); is believed to be connected to Sequoia Gilmore who is the creator of the Cherokee alphabet. Knowledge of the richness of my family tree and my return to Africa; made the creation of Abena’s Family especially meaningful for me.
During a study abroad trip to Ghana; I learned that my name would be Kristen Abena Belton Willis (Tuesday born girl to the Belton & Willis family). I chose this name to start a family tree of dolls (for myself and for everyone). In order for my dolls to include everyone in my family, there would have to be Africans, Native Americans, British, Dutch, Irish, Portuguese, Spanish and others. This is why I chose a multi-cultural collection; representing the rainbow of colors found in all of our families.
Each doll in Abena’s Family is a unique work of art, made with organic cotton, recycled clothing and carefully hand crafted with love to be family heirlooms that last throughout generations. The dolls have an autographed cowry shell sewn into their right hand so that they can hold firmly to their roots (whatever and from wherever they may be). The cowry shell was once the most popular form of currency in Africa (even found in Pharaoh’s tombs to ensure future fortune).
My visions for sharing my expressions of fine art are to teach doll making and create micro-businesses with disenfranchised women in Africa, Asia and South America to enable them to prosper in the global marketplace with a unique craft. I want to spend enough time with these women to allow me to study their authentic cultural clothing and teach them to embroider faces for my dolls. With this together we would set up businesses contributing to the Abena’s Family collection.
My dream is to use profits to create a safe place for the workers to work and (for some of them) sleep. I then want to use part of the profits to pay school fees for the associates. I would be so grateful to connect with a sponsor to partner with me in making this possible.
Another vision is to develop an African-American history collection and curriculum. This collection will provide an artistic, creative and engaging medium and approach for teaching educationally underserved rich family and world history. Custom ragg dolls allow for a beautiful artistic presentation of family history and are an excellent vehicle for passing on the important ancient art of storytelling.
I appreciate and welcome new projects and contributors of production medium (beads, cowry shells, ethnic fabrics, bird feathers, as well as sewing and doll making equipment and notions). For more information, please contact me: Kristen Belton Willis 617-922-8469 or firstname.lastname@example.org, AbenasFamily.worpresss.com.