She never had any little girls of her own to give dolls to, but that didn't stop Lulu Oxley from sharing her love of dolls with people of all ages.
For years, few people knew it was Oxley's dolls they saw at Christmastime on display at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art at Altoona. Oxley wanted to remain anonymous.
But the public only saw a small part of Oxley's doll collection, which she started in her childhood 83 years ago.
Now everyone will see all 4,000 dolls in the collection when they are put up for sale in an auction Tuesday at "Col.'' Ken Miller's Cross Keys Auction Center in Duncansville. The money raised from the auction will help pay expenses for Oxley, who is now in an assisted living facility in Bedford, said Hollidaysburg attorney Mary Lou Maierhofer, who is handling Oxley's financial matters.
Oxley has had heart problems, and her health has declined in recent months, said her niece, Beverly Johnson of Ellerslie, Md., who lives near Oxley's hometown of Corrigan, Md. But she said Oxley is aware of the auction and is content with it.
"If collectors and maybe a child can get these dolls, then Lulu will be so happy,'' Johnson said.
If you go
What: Large doll auction of 4,000 dolls
Where: Cross Keys Auction Center, Duncansville, 295 Emerald Drive, just off Route 764
When: 4 p.m. Tuesday
Details: For more information, call the auction center at 696-1913
Oxley's mother, grandmother and aunts began giving her dolls when she was a little girl, Johnson said.
"Like most people, she started young,'' she said. "She loved them from a child on up.''
When Oxley was an adult, she worked in a doll store in McLean, Va., where she learned not only how to display dolls but also how to repair them, Maierhofer said.
Included in the auction are doll parts that Oxley continued to use to repair dolls for friends and family, such as doll eyes, hair and other body parts. She also made beautiful doll clothes, Johnson said.
For the last several years, Oxley lived in a two-bedroom apartment in downtown Altoona near the SAMA museum. Despite the small quarters, she still managed to artfully arrange the large collection, Johnson said. Wooden barrister bookcases filled with dolls of all sizes lined the apartment adjacent to shelves, built by Johnson's brothers that served as home to more dolls, she said.
The end result proved amazing, not cluttered, Johnson said.
"She did it all so beautifully,'' Johnson said.
Once a year, in late fall, Oxley would meet with Barbara Hollander, SAMA-Altoona's site coordinator, and they'd select the dolls that would highlight that year's Christmas Tea event, Hollander said. The annual holiday favorite featured about 100 of Oxley's dolls usually with a theme, such as her large German dolls. The event became so popular that it prompted an evening spin-off, a pizza and parade party to kick off the doll exhibit. Families would come to see the exhibit, eat pizza and watch the city's annual Christmas parade go by in front of the museum's windows.
"We'd plan huge programs around the dolls,'' Hollander said.
She said she looked forward to going to Oxley's apartment every year to see the dolls because she knew she could go for years and still only see a fraction of the collection.
"What I was amazed at was how meticulous she was, how each one was carefully wrapped and preserved,'' she said. "She had detailed records on each one of where it came from and how she got it.''
Last Christmas marked the first year SAMA-Altoona had to go without the Christmas teas with the dolls because of Oxley's poor health. The museum has nothing like them to try to stage a similar exhibit, Hollander said.
"That era is now over,'' she said. "To see the collection broken up is rough. I miss them already.''
Miller said he expects a good turnout for the auction, but he said it's not the first time he's sold some of Oxley's dolls. Several years ago, he sold another part of her collection, which was even more extensive. That auction was very successful, he said. Tuesday's auction should bring out all kinds of people, from doll collectors to antique dealers to just the average crowd, looking to buy a doll for perhaps daughters or granddaughters, Miller said.
No matter what type of doll they're looking for, they won't be disappointed in the quality, he said. Dolls range from 30 inches to two inches tall.
"She didn't have anything junky,'' Miller said.
Miller got to know Oxley very well over the years and frequently asked her to come to his auction center to help set up dolls when he'd have a doll auction. She knew how to artfully arrange the dolls to showcase them to the best advantage, he said.
"She'd bring her lunch and sit here all day,'' Miller said.