What Are Corn Husk Dolls?

R. Bargar

Corn husk dolls have a long history in the Americas, where corn originated. Native American children played with toys made from husks that were soaked in water then formed into dolls. When the colonialists arrived in the New World, there were few resources available for children’s toys. The early settlers adopted the Native American tradition of making little dolls from materials at hand, including husks. Today, corn husk dolls are a favorite fall craft, simple to create and reminiscent of times past.

Corn husk dolls are made from corn husks soaked in water.
Corn husk dolls are made from corn husks soaked in water.

Although some corn husk dolls served ceremonial and other purposes, the most common use of the dolls among Native Americans was as toys for children. The toy dolls were not only for play but also for instruction. Girl dolls might have tiny cradleboards or hoes, while boy dolls carried a canoe paddle or bow. These accessories helped the children prepare for their future roles in society while they were still very young. Wooden kachina dolls serve some of the same purposes in Southwestern Indian cultures.

Many Naive American cultures have legends that explain why corn husk dolls are often faceless.
Many Naive American cultures have legends that explain why corn husk dolls are often faceless.

Many Native American cultures have legends pertaining to why the corn husk dolls are frequently faceless. Although the story differs from tribe to tribe, each tells that an exceptionally beautiful doll became too vain and behaved in a way that troubled the Creator. As a punishment for her vanity, she lost her features. The story is used to teach children playing with the dolls to not be vain, or think they are better than others. The tradition of making these dolls survives in many tribes today.

Just one of many Native American crafts that is now enjoyed by people around the world, corn husk dolls have a long tradition in North America. Corn originated in the Americas. It is one of the so-called "Three Sisters," the three main plants that Native Americans cultivated. Together with its sister plants squash and beans, corn was served at almost every meal and provided a versatile food that could be prepared in numerous ways. The husks were used to create fun and instructional dolls for children.

Traditional Mexican craftsmen make corn husk dolls in both natural and dyed colors. The dolls are sometimes elaborate and decorated with cloth and ribbons, resembling traditional apparel. This native craft was adopted by early European settlers the same way it was in the United States. Versions of the corn husk doll were made by many cultures around the globe as corn spread as a food crop. Dolls can now be found in Africa, Asia and Europe, along with the Americas.

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Discussion Comments


@Kat919 - That's not a bad idea, I suppose. Have you actually tried it? It seems like the crepe paper would be awfully flimsy for working with.

When I was in middle school, we did a project on Native Americans and their way of life and we had to create various crafts, like making a traditional hut out of an upside-down margarine tub and a whole lot of masking tape.

I remember my mother helping me make a corn husk doll for the project. I thought we would just use crepe paper, but she said that wouldn't be any fun. So the whole family had corn on the cob for dinner, which we kids had shucked, and then we soaked the husks and made the doll. We made a little calico bonnet for it out of a fabric scrap, too.

So yeah, we could have used crepe paper -- but if we had, I doubt it would be such a distinct and fond memory in my recollection. It really made me feel special. And I still have the doll!


If you want to try this craft in the winter, when corn is not in season, or you're just looking for how to make corn husk dolls more easily, you can actually use crepe paper -- yep, the stuff that you use to decorate for a party.

Another advantage of using crepe paper is that you can do it instantly. Corn husks have to be soaked before you can make dolls out of them, but there's no waiting for crepe paper. It seems a little more scalable; you could make crepe paper corn husk dolls with a larger group than would be practical with actual corn. Like a Girl Scout troop or youth group or something like that.

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