Meet Diane Tells His Name and her Dolls


A few weeks ago I shared two of the beautiful Tribal Nations Maps about Indigenous women. One of the people shared on them is Diane Tells His Name. Diane has an interesting life story and she makes the most beautiful dolls. As a doll collector from my childhood I have always loved dolls. My sisters and I had a doll collection that was displayed in a curio cabinet in our dining room. Over the years some dolls have been lost or damaged as we each have moved and separated our collections. I still have some and they are now in my china cabinet. I have a love of dolls from different cultures because they share so much about the culture from their features, their clothes and often their stories. Perhaps this is why I was so drawn to Diane and her story. However as I learn more about Diane I find her story even more fascinating.

Diane grew up with Irish/German parents in Southern California. When her sister was born the two girls looked nothing like one another but loved each other dearly. The family would go back to Oklahoma to visit extended family. Diane loved the Native feel of Oklahoma and made many native art purchases along old Route 66. She had a fascination with Native life like I do, however unlike me, when she was 40 she learned she was adopted. It made sense to her. Throughout her life she felt different from her family. It was not in a bad way but she just felt she was different. 

She decided to try to find her birth family. Her parents offered to help, but it was journey she wanted to do on her own. She began her journey in 1987 when there was not internet, open adoptions or access to adoption papers. She got lucky in December 1988 to get a copy of her unaltered birth certificate from Oklahoma. She found her birth mother living in Kansas. Diane flew her birth mother to San Diego to meet her and her husband and teenage children. They had a wonderful visit and Diane got answers for her questions. She and her birth mother have maintained a relationship ever since. Her birth mother is now 93. However the parents who raised Diane will always be her Mom and Dad. 

Diane's birth mother is a full blood traditional Lakota. Through her lineage Diane, her children and grandchildren have been able to enroll in their tribe. She has considered it a great honor to visit the reservation and meet her family there. She is actually writing a book about this that she hopes to finish in 2021. Perhaps this why Diane has always been drawn to Native arts.

Her birth mother shared with Diane the stories of stories of their family and how they had survived colonialism, traditional ways disappearing and the changes from being nomadic hunters to stationary life on the reservation. Many of her dolls carry these stories with them. 

Since finding her birth mother, Diane has helped native adoptees find their birth family or at least point them in the right direction. She has been a speaker for many conferences, trainings and Native conventions with this issue in mind. In 1995 Diane took back her legal birth name, Diane Tells His Name. 

I think this one is my favorite. She speaks to me.

Diane has always been into handmade crafts. She sewed her own clothes and clothes for her children back in the 1960s and 70s. She started making dolls when her youngest child was about three and her granddaughter was two. She chose the no-face dolls as there are a Plains tradition, and she liked the moral of the story of why they have no face. In a nutshell, the creator made a beautiful woman to carry the secrets of life and survival to the Lakota People. On her journey to teach the People she stopped at a pond to admire her beauty. She got sidetracked! The Creator found her and took her beauty away.  These dolls can remind one of their purpose or the owner can envision whatever face they wish onto the doll.

In 2005, Diane was encouraged by a Native Elder to let the world experience and see her dolls. By then she had made several as gifts and for family. She entered her doll Medallion Woman in an exhibit of Indigenous Women Artists in San Diego. A curator from the Western History Museum of Los Angeles saw it and purchased Medallion and White Feather Dream for the collection at the museum. Since then she has had several museums accession my dolls into their collections, most notable the Smithsonian accessioned Fur Trader’sGranddaughter into their collection in 2014. Diane has had several exhibits of her work, education workshops and been featured in museums and collections. She now has an Etsy Store and with her profile so available online, she am contacted by many organizations, collectors and education/publishers to create dolls for them or to have her speak.

Making the dolls takes a lot of patience, thought and preparation. She dreams the doll into existence, sometimes waking in the middle of the night with the final look of the doll in her head. Their stories are as real to Diane as anything else. They are a labor of love and of tradition.

Diane does not strive for perfection in making the dolls, as the only perfection is the Creator. She does pay attention to detail and make sure she uses genuine materials such as horse tail, ermine, glass and shell beads, sinew and so on. Some of my dolls do have yarn hair, mainly for Children’s Museums or for a children’s collection or exhibit. 

The least time she spends of making a doll can be anywhere from 3-4 hours and the most can be from 12-16 hours. She has a studio with all her supplies, creature comforts and inspiration available at any time. She also make jewelry and other items all for sale at Lone Elk Creations (Etsy) or directly from me. To order: (Please note: Many of the pictures in this post also have links to her Etsy store for that particular doll. Just click on the picture.)

Now I thought it would be fun to have a little craft to go with Diane's story and her amazing dolls. Although my craft is no where near as beautiful as Diane's dolls, it is a little something for kids to make their own no face doll (at least until you can purchase them one). I used a clothespin, pipe cleaner, scraps of fabric, glue, and yarn. I haven't checked out my bead supply yet to make her a necklace or bejewel her dress. I did my best to make a doll that would not require sewing so younger kids could make them. Diane's dolls are made of cloth so they are very different from this one. I did grab my pinking shears so I wouldn't have to worry about finishing the fabric edges.

No Face Doll Craft

Years ago I found a package of clothespins that came in different skin tones to make clothespin dolls. I used one of these. I cut a piece of the pipe cleaner and wrapped it around the clothespin to make arms.

Next I made her a dress. I cut a rectangle that I could fold over her to make the dress. I then cut a hole (too big) but should have only cut a small slit. Since I made the hole too big I did an under dress as well. 

I put the dress over the clothespin doll's head. I shaped the dress to the doll by using a scrape of fabric as a belt. A piece of ribbon would also work. I tied it in the back but it could be glued. I did make cuts to help shape the sleeves a bit as well.

I cut six equal strands of yarn for the hair and glued them on to the head including the top and back. Once the glue had dried a bit, I braided each side and tied off the braids. Now I have my no face doll. I may add a string so I can hang her on my Christmas tree unless Hazel steals her to play with. 

I hope you enjoyed this post and learning about Diane Tells His Name. I also hope you will go support her business! I think I may go do more research on the Lakota people and let that be my focus this Native American Heritage Month!