Manataka American Indian Council






Corn Husk Dolls

Many people believe that the Corn Husk Doll became well known after  the Western Nations such as Navajo, Hopi, Pueblos were taught to be farmers and were giving corn to raise on the lands provided for them.

Not true, for as long as anyone can remember, the Nations along the East coast have been planting corn.  Like all Nations, nothing was wasted after the crops were harvested. The cornstalks themselves were used for poles to support crops the next growing season. Shorter stalks were used as walking sticks or kindling for fires. The cobs were crafted into pipes or soaked in fat for fire starters. The Husks however were often used for making dolls!

There is a legend among the Oneida about why the Corn Husk Doll has no face.

"So, long ago when the Creator created everything on this earth, He created it with certain duties and responsibilities. The men were responsible for hunting and fishing and providing shelter for the families, and the women were responsible for working in the gardens and cooking the food and taking care of the children.

When the parents were out doing their responsibilities, the children were being left alone and getting into trouble. The boys might shoot their arrows into the woods and they'd go to find them and get lost. And, the girls were getting into trouble, or they might get too close to the fire and get burned.  The parents were having a hard time doing their responsibilities and taking care of the children, so they went to the Creator and they asked the Creator for help - to make something to take care of the children.  

So the Creator made the cornhusk doll, and it was one of the most beautiful creations ever made.   The doll had a beautiful face and had the power to walk and talk.   Cornhusk doll's responsibility was to take care of the children, so the parents could get their work done. 

The Corn Husk doll did a really good job of taking care of the children and taught them many things.  Corn Husk doll taught the little boys to hunt and the little girls to cook.  Corn Husk doll loved the babies and told them many stories. 

One day, a rain storm came to the village. Grandfather Thunder came and he shook his head and rain drops would fall from his hair. Lightning would come from his eyes. Thunder would roar through his mouth.   Corn Husk doll gathered all the children into the long house and told them stories.  When Grandfather Thunder decided to move to another village, Corn Husk doll took the children outside to play.  

Corn Husk doll found a pool of water and when she looked in the pool,  she saw her reflection.  Corn Husk doll saw she was very beautiful and became vain about her good looks.

From that day on instead of watching the children, Corn Husk doll would only look at her reflection in the water.  She gathered flowers to put in her hair and Corn Husk doll sewed seashells on her dress to make herself look more beautiful. 

Corn Husk doll was spending so much time looking at her reflection that she was not watching the children.  They children were getting into trouble and getting hurt.   The parents were upset and told the Creator that the Corn Husk doll was not watching the children.   The Creator called Corn Husk doll and scolded her for not watching the children.  As a punishment, he sent the Owl to take away her face and her power to walk and talk.

From then on, the Oneida make corn husk dolls without faces to remind us that we must not be vain and we have a duties and responsibilities that must be done.

How To Make A Corn Husk Doll

Cornhusk dolls have been made by Northeastern Native Americans probably since the beginnings of corn agriculture more than a thousand years ago. Brittle dried cornhusks become soft if soaked in water. and produce finished dolls sturdy enough for Penobscot children's toys.

In addition to their use for amusement, some cornhusk dolls are used in sacred healing ceremonies. A type of Iroquois cornhusk doll was made in response to a dream. The doll was then discarded, put back to earth to carry away the evil of the dream.

Both boy and girl dolls are made using the corn silk tassel for hair. Feet and body are stuffed with leaves and tied while arms and legs are made from braided or rolled husks. Dolls measure anywhere between four and ten inches tall. Sometimes a face is drawn, or red dots are painted for cheeks; but more often than not the doll's face is left blank.

The dolls are often dressed in cornhusks, animal hide or cloth but some are made without clothing. Personal equipment is produced for many dolls, and this helps children practice to prepare the things needed for everyday life. Girl dolls would be given cradle boards, hoes, sewing kits or other women's things, while boys could be provided with bows and arrows, canoe paddles and warrior's gear.



3 - 4 cleaned and dried corn husks
(best time to get these husks in the fall after the corn has been harvested and the stalks are left in the field or go to a Mexican specialty shop and get husk used for tamales)

Strong string or yarn.  Match the string color to the corn husk color by soaking the string in tea.



Large bowl of warm water

Soak corn husks in the bowl of water 5 minutes to make them pliable.  To make a boy corn husk doll, omit the shawl part and tie the string around the waist.  Split the bundle of husk below the waist to form the legs and tie off at the ankle.


These dolls are based on Penobscot Dolls illustrated by Frank G. Speck in the mid-1900's. You will need the husks from one or two ears of corn for a 6" doll. This should take you about 1 hour to make. Soak cornhusks (that have been thoroughly dried beforehand) for 10 minutes in warm water.

































Kim Nishimoto's Traditions -

The Oneida Indian Tribe of Wisconsin -



THE PICTURE BOOK FOR KIDS: More Than 200 Terrific Projects Fully Illustrated for Easy Reference

By Roxanne Henderson and Michael Brown (Illustrator)

 Now every rainy day, birthday party, and play date can be a creative outlet for children with The Picture Book of Kids' Crafts and Activities. WIth over 200 classic projects and original creations—fully illustrated and organized by technique and medium—children and adults alike can find ideas and supplies that suit any occasion. Activities using paint, glue, string, or Popsicle sticks—everything's in here, including: Tricky Tree Art, Deco-Decals, Dragon on a Stick, Whirling Whistles, Paper Gliders, Papier-Mache, Pressing Flowers, Terrific Terrariums, Bug Catchers, Pine-Butter Bird Feeders, Moonscapes, Japanese Wind Socks, Origami, Pocket Parachutes, Hawaiian Leis, Mobiles, Shape and Grow Topiary, Corn Husk Dolls, Backyard Birdhouses, Kazoos, Red Radish Roses, Cathedral Cookies.  From kitchen projects such as soap crayons and pasta mobiles to activities for the garden, including driftwood sculptures, sun shades, and pinwheels, to edible art with marzipan flowers and monster mosaic salad, everyone will find something to make, build, or do. NTC Publishing Group, June 1998, Soft Cover, 255pp.  $20.95

Proceeds from book purchases go to support the nonprofit, cultural, educational and religious purposes of the Manataka American Indian Council.  Thank you for your support.

Notice: Occasionally books may be discontinued or out of stock without prior notice. With written permission, your order may be filled from the 'shelf'.  Shelf books are new, but some may be slightly discolored or sale tags may be still attached. Fulfillment rate: 98.6%.


By Yvonne Despard

When children can take a hands-on approach to art projects that carry them across the curriculum, their learning and comprehension can't help but increase. Folk Art Projects - North America extends the study of North American cultural groups with 18 art projects based on folk art techniques and styles from the Far North, Americana, Native American groups, and Mexico/Central America. The lesson format includes: cultural background and an illustration of the folk art form, literature references that tie to the culture or particular project, materials list, complete, illustrated step-by-step directions for completing a project based on the authentic folk art, reproducible patterns as needed. Projects and materials indexed for quick reference. All 80 pages perforated for easy removal. Projects include: Inuit carving, Jacob's Ladder toy, tin lantern, corn husk doll, Guatemalan, plate design, Mexican tin art, Northwest Coast totem poles, Eskimo mask, Huichol yarn art, Chilkat blanket, molas, apple head figure, buttonhole puzzle, dipped candles, Pennsylvania, Dutch barn sign, Kachina doll, sun dance buffalo, and Navajo sand painting.  18 art projects for far north, Americana, Native Americans, Mexico/Central America. Cultural background and literature references with each project.  This craft books series offers a broad array of projects to meet the needs of the elementary classroom. All lessons feature a materials list, illustrated step-by-step directions, and a drawing of the completed project.  Craft Works for Kids projects use readily available materials. Art experiences feature a wide variety of mediums, ranging from drawing to paper construction to sculpture. Projects were developed and tested in classroom settings. Patterns are provided where ever needed. Evan-Moor Educational Publishers, August 1999, Soft Cover, 80pp. $28.95 

Proceeds from book purchases go to support the nonprofit, cultural, educational and religious purposes of the Manataka American Indian Council.  Thank you for your support.

Notice: Occasionally books may be discontinued or out of stock without prior notice. With written permission, your order may be filled from the 'shelf'.  Shelf books are new, but some may be slightly discolored or sale tags may be still attached. Fulfillment rate: 98.6%.


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