Corn husk dolls: General information

celtic b-black white-01Origins in North America

The corn husk doll is a Native American doll made out of the dried leaves or “husk” of a corn (maize) cob. The North-eastern Native Americans (especially the Penobscot, Oneida and Iroquois tribes) probably have been making them since the domestication of corn more than a thousand years ago.

1) Doll-making kit
1) Doll-making kit

The brittle dried cornhusks become soft if soaked in water and produce sturdy dolls. Both male and female dolls are made using the corn silk tassel for hair. The feet and body are stuffed with leaves and tied while the arms and legs are made from braided or rolled husks. Dolls measure anywhere between four and ten inches tall (10—25 cms). Sometimes a face is drawn, or red dots are painted for cheeks; but more often than not the doll’s face is left blank.

2) Group of Native American-style corn husk dolls
2) Group of Native American-style corn husk dolls

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 to practice preparing the things needed for everyday life. Female dolls would be given cradle boards, hoes, sewing kits or other women’s things, while the males would be provided with bows and arrows, canoe paddles and warrior’s gear.

In addition to their use for amusement (toys), 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.

3) Modern Native American-style corn husk doll
3) Modern Native American-style corn husk doll

Like the Motanka from the Slavic cultures (see 1.26.1 Ukraine Motanka) Corn husk dolls do not have faces, and there are a number of traditional explanations for this. One legend is that the Spirit of Corn, one of the Three Sisters, made a doll out of her husks to entertain children. The doll had a beautiful face, and began to spend less time with children and more time contemplating her own loveliness. As a result of her vanity, the doll’s face was taken away. Another reason is that like with the Motanka, a face on the doll would give it a soul, which is frowned upon.


Making corn husk dolls was adopted by early European settlers in North America (16th century onwards). Corn husk doll making is now actively practiced in the United States as a link to Native American culture and the arts and crafts of the settlers.

4) Hungarian dolls
4) Hungarian corn husk dolls

Making husk-dolls is also a tradition of Transylvania. The dolls symbolise the fertility of the land and their inhabitants in the Transylvanian Hungarian culture. The tradition is still enjoying popularity in Transylvania as well as the whole area of Hungary. Children are shown how to make husk dolls on craft programmes. Professional dolls are sold in tourist shops and farmer’s markets. Corn husk weaving is also thought of as a profession; a diploma is available for adults who want to make a living of it.

5) Slovakian corn husk dolls
5) Slovakian corn husk dolls

There are corn husk dolls from Slovenia showing villagers doing their daily chores. They have been made since the 1950s to be sold to tourists.



1) Doll-making kit –

2) Group of Native American-style corn husk dolls –

3) Modern Native American-style corn husk doll –

4) Hungarian corn husk dolls –

5) Slovakian corn husk dolls –



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