After World War II, Claudia Kelsey, a longtime toy collector, moved to Juneau, Alaska with her friend Bea to set up a life as an artist. She brought with her a large collection of dolls, figures, and miniatures dear to her that would, upon her passing, become the beloved gallery in the heart of Juneau known today as Aunt Claudia’s Dolls.
Upon Claudia’s death some 60 years after the war, her friend Bea decided the collection, which had amassed more than 800 items, should be put on display free for the public. Frequented often by families, museum visitors are treated to a plethora of unique toys that includes one of the country’s most diverse displays of northern indigenous dolls and miniatures.
The collection ranges from delicate fishermen figures to plush teddy bears and Scooby-Doo stuffed animals to books on doll-making and repair. Items in the collection have come from all around the world and the native pieces come from Alaska, Canada, Siberia, Scandinavia, Iceland, and Greenland.
Recently, the collection has grown larger from items donated from Claudia’s two sisters, Adelaide and June, as well as Juneau friends and neighbors. The museum, which resembles a child’s play area more than any traditional gallery, is meant for people to come and admire the collection and even pick up many of the items and immerse themselves in joy and nostalgia. And while some of the items are newer and store-bought, others, like the native dolls, are handmade and fragile, carrying with them traditional and historic importance.
No item in the collection is for sale, but museum officials do selectively accept donations of items to include in the collection. It’s all part of the vision to keep a childlike love and appreciation alive for the city that Aunt Claudia called home.