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The tale begins with a young woman meticulously dyeing felt fabric and the freehand painting of doll faces during the Depression. The tale continues daily in a design room, a short stroll from Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith, NH. Either way, this is a once-upon-a-time story of a doll-making cottage industry that made it big . . . nationally big. But what makes this story different is that it’s infused with magic—a very special magic that is uniquely Annalee.
Annalee Thorndike and husband, Chip, lived on a chicken farm in Meredith. After the chicken farm failed in the early 1950s, Annalee was forced to get serious about her childhood hobby of doll making with a dash of Yankee influence. The old chicken coop became a design room. Chip became a salesman. Annalee became a doll maker. She fashioned her creations directly from the activities of her two sons—skiing, swimming, and other activities children do best. There is no doubt that this is why Annalee designed more than one mischievous, whimsical face for each of her doll creations.
Annalee continued to focus on human figures doing everyday things and had categories for occupations, sports and hobbies. She also introduced some animals into the line. During this time a small staff worked out of Annalee and Chip’s home and some worked out of their own homes. The ‘homeworker’ model continued right up until 2001.
Her famous mice with several facial expressions, took on different personas, occupations, and hobbies. These little critters became a staple in the holiday and seasonal decoration categories that progressed toward the end of the decade. The mice are still a favorite among customers and collectors to this day.
The holiday and seasonal lines flourished, Santa, mice, elves and animals became the core of the collections. Annalee was inspired by the family holiday traditions. “The ideas emerged from research and reading,” Annalee said “After all, this is when people really show how much they care for each other.” Annalee’s designs reflected simpler times and her own sense of human nature and humor. Whether a Christmas elf or an Easter frog, one characteristic threads itself throughout the entire family of dolls: ”It’s the ‘positive-ness’ of the face,” said Annalee. “It’s the smile. If you smile, someone else has got to smile back.”
Yes, her dolls are full of character and whimsy, but the thread that binds them together as an “Annalee” is that each and every one of them energetically celebrates some aspect of life itself—life at its very best. Annalee passed away in 2002, but her legacy continues. Today, more than 80 years after her first dolls were made, Annalee Dolls remains a New Hampshire tradition, operating out of the same picturesque town of Meredith and bringing smiles to young and old. The Annalee Gift Shop, at 339 Daniel Webster Highway, welcomes thousands of visitors from all over the world each year. Families shop for dolls that will bring happiness to their homes, or they take their time picking out the perfect gift that will bring a smile to a friend or loved one. The next time you’re in the Lakes Region, be sure to stop by the Annalee Gift Shop and experience this New Hampshire tradition. You’ll be warmed by the heartfelt displays and leave with a smile.