Naida Njoku, an artist and collector who has been actively accumulating dolls since she was 14, is opening a museum on Linden Boulevard next spring.
The Marie Rose Doll Museum and Cultural Center, she hopes, will represent the culmination of years of international travel and time spent trying to enlighten children.
“People show interest just walking by,” she said. “It’s different, they don’t have anything like it around here.”
The museum, which is located at 187-11 Linden Blvd. in St. Albans, was only recently fitted with its custom awning. In the window is a large doll house filled with miniature furniture.
Walking by, it seems as if the storefront where the museum sits might be selling the dolls within, but what Njoku is offering is quite a bit more valuable.
“The dolls that I have represent all of the continents,” she said. “The whole idea is that, especially for children, we can issue little passports, and they can have them stamped … If people get to know other people, they will feel more of a closeness when (they) understand them, and you have to teach children first.”
Njoku estimates that her own doll collection numbers at more than 500 — though she doesn’t keep count. She said that the museum itself represents almost limitless possibilities as far as exhibits and themes are concerned, because of the universal nature of the dolls themselves.
“People just seem to relate to dolls,” she said. “The time has come to do this. It shouldn’t be belonging to one person.”
Njoku, a retired nurse, said that her entire collection almost didn’t happen.
While living with her husband in Nigeria in the late 1960’s, Njoku had brought her original doll collection with her, and displayed it in her home there, paying as much painstaking attention to detail then as she does today.
Civil war broke out in the country in 1967, and Njoku and her husband, Dr. John Njoku, currently a professor at Touro College, had to leave their home behind and flee to the United States. She lost nearly everything, including the collection she had worked since the age of 14 to build.
She had all but given up on collecting after that, but in spite of the great loss, was inspired to start again by advice from a nun.
Now, Njoku’s collection includes dolls from five continents, with representations of everyone from Jackie Kennedy to Mahatma Ghandi, John Wayne and Louis Armstrong.
Njoku said she is interested in working with children because of her own experience with them — she has four grandchildren.
“The dolls are something that represent geography and history for the next generation. They’re all going to see it, they’re just going to see it in doll formation.”