Ann Wyeth McCoy was an artist, musician and composer, but she also was a child at heart, having collected in her lifetime hundreds of dolls. Approximately half of the collection will be auctioned to the public in April and the other half will become part of the Brandywine River Museum's permanent collection.
The lifetime resident of Chadds Ford died suddenly last November at age 90. McCoy came from a long line of artists and continued the tradition until her death. She was the daughter of artist N.C. Wyeth and the older sister of Andrew. Her late husband was artist John W. McCoy. To celebrate her 90th birthday last spring a show of her watercolors went on display in Wilmington.
Forever, dolls held a special place in her heart. Like many little girls, McCoy had a few beloved dolls. According to her daughter Anna B. McCoy, her original childhood favorites -- Betty, Harriett, Mary and others -- are still in pristine condition today. When McCoy was small, her father created a dollhouse for her in the basement of their home. Her brother Andy painted window scenes for it because, being in a basement, there was no natural view for the dolls. She treasured the dolls and, as she got older, her collection grew and grew. She also collected antique dollhouses, tea sets, doll clothes, toys, costumes, child-size and doll-size furniture.
On her property, McCoy maintained the little red Lucy Farnsworth House, a playhouse, or more accurately, doll house. The house began its life overlooking the sea in Maine at the family's summer place. Her husband built the tiny house and most of its furniture for his children. Anna B. McCoy said she wasn't so much interested in the dolls, but in re-arranging the furniture, which, as it turns out, marked the beginnings of her love of antiques.
In the late 1960s the family loaded the house on the back of a flatbed truck and hauled it down to Chadds Ford where it still sits overlooking a pond. It was important to her mother, Anna B. McCoy said, that "the girls" still had a view of the water. Thirty or more dolls reside in the Lucy Farnsworth house.
Many of the dolls and accoutrements in the enormous collection were gifts from friends who visited the dollhouse. Anna B. McCoy said her mother remembered the story of every single doll, tea set or chandelier -- its vintage and, most important to her, how it came to live with her. For instance, she said, a friend found one doll, aptly named "Miss Dump," on the top of a trash heap in Maine. Just last summer mother and daughter attended an auction in Maine and McCoy came home with one more doll.
Since the earliest days of the Brandywine River Museum in the early 1970s, McCoy set up her collection for public viewing in the holiday exhibit. Her husband built sets and backdrops and McCoy would create different scenes every year. When John McCoy died, Anna B. McCoy helped her mother put together the display. Before her death McCoy had planned the 2005 show and, wanting to follow through on their mother's intentions, Anna B., her sister Robin McCoy and brother Denys McCoy lovingly, carefully and painstakingly assembled the display in her memory.
Happily for the family, a large collection of dolls will remain at the Brandywine River Museum. The Lucy Farnsworth house will remain intact and will be moved to the N.C.Wyeth property in Chadds Ford where McCoy grew up. The property is owned and maintained by the Brandywine River Museum. Both the family house and N.C. Wyeth's studio are open to the public for tours. The dollhouse will sit in a place of honor behind the main house.
James H. Duff, director of the museum, said, "Ann Wyeth McCoy collected dolls throughout her life, and because of her generous spirit, her collection was often shown at the Brandywine River Museum during the Christmas season. She willed her dollhouse to the museum in a very thoughtful gesture that will preserve what she cared about so much."
After McCoy's death, her family went through all her belongings, kept what they treasured most, donated items and will auction what remains. There will be two auctions of her things at William Bunch Auctions on Route 202 in Chadds Ford. On Tuesday, April 4, estate property including furniture, household goods, studio materials, original artwork and prints will be auctioned. On April 9, Bunch will auction 133 dolls, doll clothing, dollhouse and miniature furniture, dioramas, toys, tea sets and costumes.
According to William Bunch, the dolls are in excellent condition and most are bisque, made in Germany and France in "the golden age of doll making -- the latter 19th century and early 20th century."
The dolls and the dollhouse were just more proof to McCoy's children and friends that she still was a child at heart, even at age 90. Anna B. McCoy said just last winter her mother would sled down the snowy driveway to get her mail. That sled will also be a part of the museum's collection.