“I cannot stop my work, either job, because it is what I was meant to do; and come hell or high water, there are sick people in the world that need nursing care and the true story of my people that needs to be told. I do believe there is healing through history.”
In addition to being a nurse, tour guide, genealogist and gifted performer and founder of Unheard of Voices of Louisiana, Dianne Honoré has also produced a product line that honors her commitment to history and healing. Her line includes clothing, indigo colored bracelets and her signature Gumbomarie doll collection.
Dianne stated “It is about the people who made Louisiana what it is,” she says.
Her historical performances, products and interpretations have all been designed to give a broader view of the sometimes painful, but rich legacy of Louisiana. Speaking of her indigo bracelets,1 she noted that indigo was one of Louisiana’s first cash crops and that Africans were brought to Louisiana because of their knowledge of its cultivation and process.
“Part of the reason I do what I do is definitely an educational aspect,” Honoré explains. “I would like people to take as a gift a better picture of who we are from Louisiana and why we are that way. The more you know, the better you understand. It’s called healing through history.”
For Dianne, all of her creations have an educational component. The Gumbomarie dolls have become visual ambassadors of her vision. Crafted from cured Spanish moss, over 100 dolls – handmade one-of-a-kind keepsakes – have been sold. Collectors from as far away as South Africa have purchased them.
“Everything I make – the bracelets, the dolls, the T-shirts – are significant to history.”
Her cotton T-shirt line recognizes the history of the marginalized inhabitants of Louisiana. An Unheard Voices of Louisiana T-shirt depicts free women of color, sugar cane fields, enslaved people, a German Acadian farmer, a cypress tree and the sway of the Mississippi River. A fleur-de-lis on the right shoulder of the T-Shirt represents the punishment of branding of Africans with the fleur-de-lis symbol as dictated by the Code Noir. 2
“There are no kings and queens on the front of that shirt. It is about the people who made Louisiana what it is,” she says.
To get where Honoré makes dolls, there is a long flight of stairs that leads what she calls her “princess tower,” a studio that overlooks Algiers Pointe.
“My studio is in the Princess Tower. I can see downtown lit up at night. You can hear boat horns; sometimes you can hear music from across the river”.
Honoré has spent days and nights creating in her studio. Spread about her studio are touchstones that include various percussion instruments, pink Everlast boxing gloves, a rosary, the breast cancer wig she wore after losing her hair from chemotherapy, a red beans and rice hat with French bread, and a pink boa. In the background, Matt Lemmler’s arrangement of Ode to Joy from his “Ubuntu” CD helps soothe the soul.
In the Princess Tower, Honoré’s doll creations come to life. Inspired by songs, history, mood, whimsy and the changing of seasons, they tell their tales. No two dolls are alike; and every doll wears a headdress called a “tignon”. Dianne explains that around 1786 “Gov. Miro required tignons to be worn by free women of color as a means of oppression. These strong creative women, instead, made them crowns of distinction.”
Each doll wears a cross mark or an ‘X’. 3 This Haitian symbol is called a “kwasiyen” and reflects an African tradition of symbolizing a place where the world of living connects to the world of spirits.
As the dolls take shape, they present diverse panoplies of colors, textures and materials. The fabrics range between those an enslaved person would have worn to more modern patterns. The dolls are clad in splashy Caribbean bright colors as well as royal blues, bright orange, tie dyes and understated blue and white hues. The textures range from silky satin for the Billie Holiday Lady Day doll to the Africa doll in a thick canvas fabric.
A lime green doll is encircled in a ‘wreath’ of springtime blossoms, flowers, sprigs, butterflies and a spray of berries. This doll is named Awreatha! A purple Mardi Gras doll wears basket filled with Mardi Gras beads and a King Cake baby.
“Usually when I’m making the dolls, I name them,” she says. “It goes strictly by the feelings I get from the doll. It’s not necessarily that I pick the name first. I choose a fabric and an idea, and then the name will come to me. For some of these, I’ll have the tignon for myself and I’ll make a doll from a piece of my tignon.”
For more information on purchasing Dianne’s collectible dolls, contact Jan at (615)293-0889.