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Bébé Marie Presents …

– Posted in: Aesthetics Collage & Montage Creativity Digital Art Digital Collage Inspiration Masters of Collage Memes Surrealism Wood Engravings Wordless Wednesday

Sometime in the early twentieth century, the American artist Joseph Cornell paid a visit to his cousin Ethel. An only child, Ethel lived alone in a “Hudson River-type” house, as Cornell’s sister Betty described it. During his visit and while rummaging around in the basement or attic of Ethel’s house, Cornell found a large Victorian porcelain girl doll; when he left Ethel’s house, the doll left with him. He did not tell Ethel that he had taken the doll.

Bebe Marie Presents (2012). Digital collage created & copyright © by Eric Edelman. All rights reserved.

Cornell wrote later on that he had “kidnapped” this doll, which he would eventually name “Bébé Marie.” That Cornell regarded the act of taking the doll as a kidnapping rather than an act of theft shows that he believed the doll had the soul of a living being. The naming of the doll carried it further into the human realm. In common with many who own dolls, and make or use statues, figures, mannequins, or ventriloquist’s dummies, Cornell had imbued Bébé Marie with part of his soul.

Some years after acquiring Bébé Marie, Cornell set her in a grove of bare-twig trees within a glass-fronted box. His encasement of the doll seemed to strengthen her quality of soul: having “freed” her from entombment in his cousin’s house, treated her like a person, and given her a name, he now gave her a space in which to live and act.

(The details of Cornell’s visit to his cousin were taken from the reminiscences of his sister Elizabeth Cornell Benton, as published in the book Joseph Cornell’s Vision of Spiritual Order, by Lindsay Blair [London: Reaktion Books, 1998].)

(All artwork, descriptions, & other text (except for quotations and cited research material) created & copyright © by Eric Edelman. All rights reserved.)

72 Comments… add one

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72 comments… add one
Tots and Me w/linky March 13, 2012, 5:53 pm

Very interesting

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 1:30 am

Thanks for your comment.

Catch My Words March 13, 2012, 6:20 pm

A doll with a living soul? Now that’s creepy!

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 1:28 am

That’s why dolls give so many people the creeps: because the dolls seem like they’re almost alive.

Monica March 13, 2012, 7:11 pm

Thanks for the linky!

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 1:15 am

Thank you also!

DeDa Studios March 13, 2012, 8:19 pm

Wordless Wednesday

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 1:12 am

Thanks for stopping by to link up.

Lisa March 13, 2012, 8:20 pm

Great post.

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 12:52 am

Thanks, Lisa!

fishy w/Linky! March 13, 2012, 8:55 pm


Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 12:51 am

Thanks, Mitch!

jessica @peekababy March 13, 2012, 10:42 pm

those are the kind of eyes that follow you around the room…gak!

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 12:50 am

Thanks for your comment, Jessica. Actually, any portrait or facial image in which the eyes stare straight ahead (at a right angle in relation to the surface of the picture) will follow you around the room.

Sukhmandir Kaur March 13, 2012, 10:51 pm

Some dolls are worthy of imagination, One of my earliest memories is of a doll who stood as tall as I did at the time and seemed almost like a sibling perhaps she preceded them. however the reason I remember her is for her names, though I don’t recollect how she came by them. Your collage is very interesting perhaps a bit grotesque 🙂 I love the central image , very cool art.

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 12:29 am

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Quite often the collages that appear here have some grotesque elements in them, for much the same reasons that the grotesque appears frequently in our perceptions of life. In fact, some people find dolls themselves to be grotesque and creepy, probably because they feel part of the spirit that others have imbued dolls with, as spoken of in the post. I’m glad you like the central image; it is indeed central both to the collage and to the post.

SprungAtLast March 13, 2012, 10:58 pm

Wow – that is too cool.

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 12:08 am


MamaWise March 13, 2012, 10:59 pm

Very cool!

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 12:06 am

Thanks for visiting and for your kind comment!

Janice March 13, 2012, 11:07 pm

I like the backward corset!

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 12:02 am

Thanks, Janice! This one was difficult but fun to do.

Danielle @ Royalegacy March 13, 2012, 11:36 pm

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing this piece of history

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 12:01 am

Thanks for your visit and comment, Danielle.

Dave Keller @ Dave's Life March 13, 2012, 11:51 pm

Happy Wordless Wednesday! Thanks for linking up.

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 12:01 am

Thanks, Dave–and happy WW to you as well!

Maria @ LSS March 14, 2012, 12:53 am

This is nice. Happy RT2!

Mine’s here.

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 1:42 am

Thanks for stopping by to link up!

Cafe au lait March 14, 2012, 12:54 am


Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 1:39 am

Thanks for your kind comment!

Leovi March 14, 2012, 2:03 am

Wonderful, I love this collage, great!

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 2:30 am

Thanks, Leovi!

bethere2day **LINKY** March 14, 2012, 5:10 am

Love it, those eyes are creepy lol 🙂

I had a bit of trouble trying to comment this is my second attempt it kept saying the site was down after submitting

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 10:57 am

Thanks, Steve! My apologies for your trouble commenting. Both comments did register; the site wasn’t down either time.

Lenasledgeblog March 14, 2012, 7:25 am

Great collage. Really artistic and vivid.

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 11:40 am

Thank you very much, Lena! I really appreciate your kind comment.

Amy March 14, 2012, 7:45 am

Thanks for sharing and linking up with The BOAT.

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 11:39 am

Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment, Amy!

Paula J March 14, 2012, 8:11 am

Cool, beautiful and creepy all at the same time!


Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 11:38 am

Thanks, Paula. Your comment perfectly captures the essence of the entire story!

Carol @ Always Thyme to Cook March 14, 2012, 9:17 am

Love this collage! Really interesting story. I wonder what the cousin thought about it.

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 11:37 am

I’m sure that if she ever found out about it, she was “some put out.” Cornell’s sister Betty wrote that had their cousin Ethel known, she never would have allowed Cornell to take the doll, even though she never played with it herself. Possessive people often are that way.

I don’t know if she ever did find out. What I do know is that after Cornell’s death (and Ethel’s death), the doll was sent to Ethel’s heir, her nephew Morgan. Later on, after negotiations with Cornell’s estate, the Museum of Modern Art in New York purchased the box and Bébé Marie. (Further information comes from note 153, in Joseph Cornell’s Vision of Spiritual Order, by Lindsay Blair [London: Reaktion Books, 1998].)

Theresa March 14, 2012, 10:07 am

Hmmm, I pretended my dolls were alive when I was little, but carrying that over into adulthood is a bit creepy. Very interesting WW!

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 11:14 am

Thanks, Theresa. Well, that’s what some ventriloquists do, to a certain extent. They carry it over into adulthood in order to make their impersonations more real. Problems really begin when they continue that off-duty!

But on another level, it’s often not that way at all: the person lends part of his or her personality or soul to the doll he or she is playing with, which is not the same as when he or she pretends the doll is alive. It’s more like putting oneself into the things around one: we all do it, to a greater or lesser degree, consciously or unconsciously. After all, sailors do it with ships by calling them “she,” and nobody says “boo!” to them; likewise when truckers name their vehicles. Seeing part of our soul in the things around us is yet another way we have of making the world safe for ourselves.

CatSynth March 14, 2012, 11:07 am

I like this image, a bit surreal and creepy. I wouldn’t have initially recognized the connection to Joseph Cornell, since she’s not in a “box.” So I’m glad you added the story.

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 12:32 pm

Thanks! I’m glad you like it. The stories and collages I “participate” in often inspire each other. Sometimes a story sparks a composition idea for a collage; sometimes the collage suggests the story. In the present case, the engraving of the doll holding a signboard immediately suggested Bébé Marie to me.

The “recursive” image of the doll-within-the-doll-within-the-doll in the collage acts as a symbol of Bébé Marie in a box: the dolls within the larger doll represent the “soul” Cornell gave to the doll, enclosed within the “box” of its body.

Mellissa March 14, 2012, 11:55 am

Neat picture

Just hopping by from

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 12:33 pm

Thanks for your kind comment and for stopping by, Mellissa!

Char March 14, 2012, 1:14 pm

Now I’m going to be eyeing all my daughter’s doll with suspicion!

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 11:02 pm

Given that statement, all I can recommend is this: avoid the Puppet Master movies like the plague!

Erika March 14, 2012, 1:16 pm

Another interesting collage Eric, and certainly pause for thought – I’m one of those who found dolls a bit creepy when I was a child, but I think it’s especially creepy that the adult Cornell “kidnapped” Bebe Marie! The “doll’ in your collage reminds me of Alice from Alice in Wonderland, by the way! Have a great week 🙂

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 10:59 pm

Thanks, Erika. There’s no doubt that many people found Cornell a strange man and were somewhat put off by his behavior. But everybody is strange to somebody else somewhere, I suppose. At least his act of theft injured no one, and was eventually made good.

She does rather remind one of Mary Badcock, doesn’t she? (Mary Badcock was the model for the original John Tenniel illustrations in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.) Hope you enjoy your week also!

Proud Nana-linky March 14, 2012, 1:17 pm

Wow, I learned something from my visit to your site! Thanks for sharing!

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 10:52 pm

Thanks very much–I appreciate your visit and your comment!

aquariann March 14, 2012, 1:43 pm

I was excited when I came across Joseph Cornell during an Art History class, as he shares my last name – but I have no clue if we’re distantly related somehow. I hadn’t heard that story, though, how fascinatingly creepy!! Great collage.

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 10:49 pm

Thanks, Aquariann! I first became aware of the work of Joseph Cornell when I was about five or six years old. As I may have mentioned before, the works of Cornell, Max Ernst, and René Magritte first inspired me to become a visual artist.

Cornell’s story is more fascinating than most people think: if you love Cornell’s stuff, you should buy & read Deborah Solomon’s book Utopia Parkway: the Life and Work of Joseph Cornell. It’s full of fascinating anecdotes about him and his work, and is, I believe, one of the finest biographies of an artist ever written.

As for your genealogy, there is extensive documentation of many families using the Cornell surname. The biography may also give you clues to follow.

Kaili March 14, 2012, 2:55 pm

Great post, very fascinating 🙂

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 10:36 pm

Thanks, Kaili!

Faythe @ GrammyMouseTails March 14, 2012, 5:23 pm

I find the story a bit creepy also! and your collage brings it more alive.

Eric Edelman March 14, 2012, 10:35 pm

Thanks, Faythe (I hope the collage won’t keep you up or bring bad dreams). It is a strange story, and it does tell a lot about the character of one of America’s most important 20th-century artists.

Samantha @ KreativeKaring March 15, 2012, 5:38 am

wow, seems like a good book. Reminds me of a movie I watched a while ago, about an old woman who puts a curse on her dolls and when she dies, she comes back through them lol. It was a pretty freaky movie! lol
I think the design is really neat! Thanks for stopping by KreativeKaring and linking up for WW!
Hope you have an awesome day!


Eric Edelman March 15, 2012, 7:30 am

Thanks for visiting and for your kind comment, Samantha! I don’t think that when I posted this, I anticipated how high the “creepy” factor connected with dolls would be. People’s comments have been interesting and unexpected.

Nancy@Ollie McKay's March 15, 2012, 8:43 am

Wonderful digital collage! Loved reading the post and looking around on your BLog! Have a great day!

Eric Edelman March 15, 2012, 4:29 pm

Thanks for your kind words, Nancy! I’m glad you liked the collage and post. Have a very blessed day!

self sagacity March 15, 2012, 10:48 am

An interesting one today with kidnapping theory. I wouldn’t like to be guilty of either.

Eric Edelman March 15, 2012, 6:12 pm

Nor would I! Thanks very much for your visit and your comment.

Eschelle March 15, 2012, 2:49 pm

I love dolls I wouldn’t doubt it if some of them actually did, at least a little piece of the makers perhaps. In a sense that doll could be impression-ed with the emotions of the creator at the time. Not like the factory dolls these days.

Eric Edelman March 15, 2012, 4:54 pm

Thanks for visiting and leaving such a thoughtful comment, Eschelle. I feel that way as well. Please come back and visit my blog next week for the sequel to this post!

Feeling Beachie March 16, 2012, 5:52 am

so beautiful… I love all your pictures

Eric Edelman March 17, 2012, 2:36 am

Thank you so much! I appreciate your kind words.

Sarah (brattypants) March 28, 2012, 5:53 pm

Very interesting! Beautiful collage!

Eric Edelman March 28, 2012, 10:44 pm

Thank you very much, Sarah! I appreciate your kind comment.

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