Raggedy Ann museum closing

Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers Archive/Village Doll & Toy Shop.

Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers Archive/Village Doll & Toy Shop.

ARCOLA, Ill. (AP) – Known for its ties to some of the most famous dolls of all time,  the town of Arcola is about to lose the Raggedy Ann and Andy spotlight with the closure of a museum dedicated to the famed storybook characters.

Doll creator Johnny Gruelle was born in Arcola in 1880, and his granddaughter, Joni Wannamaker, has operated a museum of Raggedy Ann and Andy memorabilia there for 10 years. The city is also known for its annual festival dedicated to the two dolls and the stories written about them.

This important arm of Arcola’s heritage is about to suffer a potentially crippling blow, as the museum will be shuttered by the end of the year, while the Original Raggedy Ann & Andy Festival has been canceled for this summer.

While a portion of the museum building may continue to house a small exhibit, most of the items are being transferred to the Strong National Museum of Play in New York, as Wannamaker and her husband, Tom, can no longer afford to pick up operational expenses not covered by dwindling membership dues and sales in the museum’s gift shop.

“It’s very sad for us,” Wannamaker said. “We’re going through terrible misery about this, we really are.”

The festival, meanwhile, was called off because no one was willing to take charge of organizing it this year, according to the Arcola Chamber of Commerce. But officials said more than 100 people are still planning to gather informally to celebrate Raggedy Ann & Andy in Arcola.

“Right now, we’ve got a lot of volunteer fatigue,” said Bill Wagoner, Arcola city administrator. “You call on a lot of people to put these festivals together, and they do it out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s a lot to ask of someone.”

Gruelle, an artist and a poet, created Raggedy Ann for his daughter, Marcella, in 1915. Gruelle wrote and illustrated Raggedy Ann Stories, which were published in 1918, followed by Raggedy Andy Stories in 1920. The dolls and their stories have since achieved international fame, spawning numerous books as well as television shows and films.

Wannamaker is Gruelle’s first granddaughter and is responsible for much of her grandfather’s artwork, manuscripts and other memorabilia. In 1999, Wannamaker and her husband moved from Atlanta, Ga., to Arcola to establish the nonprofit Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum.

The Wannamakers,  now in their 60s, volunteer their time at the museum. Overhead including insurance, gift shop inventory and delicate temperature control and alarm systems is funded through sales at the museum’s gift shop, membership dues and an admission fee of $1 per person.

But Wannamaker said tourism has tapered off in Arcola, resulting in fewer visitors to the museum, a decline in gift shop sales and a reduction in membership. Consequently, the Wannamakers have been forced to pay for operational expenses out of their own pocket.

“Anytime there’s a shortfall, it’s coming out of our retirement (savings), and we’ve gotten to the point where we just can’t do it anymore,” said Wannamaker.

She has already donated several manuscripts from her father to the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y., and most of the Arcola museum’s artwork, murals and other items will be taken to New York by December.

“We want Raggedy Ann and Andy to go on to a facility that will be able to maintain [their legacy],” said Wannamaker. “It’s a huge children’s museum in upstate New York, and we think it’s a perfect spot for Raggedy Ann and Andy to be.”

Items that belong to the family, such as “a little bit of art and books,” will remain with the Wannamakers, who will continue to own the museum building in Arcola and possibly will maintain a small exhibit there, Wannamaker said.

Even so, “I think it’s a huge loss for Arcola, and it’s very sad for us,” she said.

Information from: Mattoon Journal-Gazette, http://www.jg-tc.com

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