Ellen McGowan, sculptor of Alex Haley’s childhood
  • Reader asks about ‘Alex Haley Remembers’ collectible
  • Readers ask about ‘Black Jack’ poster, newspapers & Haley figurines
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    Figurines depicting Alex Haley’s childhood

    The first thing I saw in the etagere was a beautiful Lladro grouping of a mother reading to her two daughters. One daughter was seated on a bench next to her, listening intently, and the other was at her feet kinda listening but playing with a puppy. The image was so powerful that it willed you to stop and take a look.

    I learned later that the porcelain piece was called Family Roots from Lladro’s Black Legacy Collection, designed by Antonio Ramos in 1986 and now retired.

    As I continued scanning the case, I saw other groupings of African American adults with children along with some single figurines, all entirely different from Lladro. They lacked the smoothness and elegance that are the trademarks of Lladro. They were more rough-hewn, as if they’d been kneaded and shaped with fingers. But their message was the same.

    Two boys engaging in what was once a favorite pastime "Playing Marbles," from the Alex Haley Remembers Collection.

    There were more than a half dozen of them, indicating to me that they were a collection – although the owner Margaret didn’t seem to think of them as such. They had been given to her by her Aunt Sarah, she said, who has her own collection of dolls that spanned more than 40 years.

    I lifted the sculpture closest to me and read the inscription on the bottom:

    The Alex Haley Remembers Collection. Inspired by Alex Haley. Sculpted by Ellen McGowan. Grandma’s Kiss. Limited Edition. 240/5000. 1990 Cumberland G.A.P.

    I had never heard of or seen a collection commemorating Alex Haley, nor had I come across any of the individual figurines at auction. So, I went Googling but could not find a lot of information about the series.

    At left "The Storyteller," in center "Walking with Grandpa," along with a mother and son figurine.

    Like many folks, I was familiar with the name Alex Haley, who brought us the story of his ancestor Kunte Kinte in his book “Roots,” which was a TV miniseries in 1977. Kinte’s tale was the story of every black person in the United States whose people were stolen from Africa to be enslaved in America. Those of us who descended from the Kunte Kintes were planted in front of our TVs for eight nights in January 1977 to get lost in the history that we shared.

    Even before “Roots,” Haley had sat down with Malcolm X to tell his story of hustling as a young man to embracing and teaching about Islam as an adult in “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” published in 1965.

    The Haley figurines were limited-edition collectibles that apparently came out in the early 1990s, according to a 1991 article from the Chicago Tribune. Back then, one shop owner called them the “Hummels” of African American culture, referring to the German figurines that are so popular. At the time, the Haley pieces were selling for $10 to $175.

    Margaret’s pieces were signed by McGowan and artist Michael A. Childress, about whom I could find little.

    Figurines from the collection, including "First Love" on the right.

    McGowan said the figurines were based on the childhood of Haley, according to a McGowan bio on the website of the James-Ben Studio & Gallery in Greeneville, TN. Haley was born in Ithaca, NY, and spent some years as a child in Henning, TN.

    “He would tell stories of his childhood and I would sculpt the stories into the originals for the collectibles to be cast from,” said McGowan, whom the website said was a native of Memphis.

    Many of the children in Margaret’s pieces were holding or reading books – a nod perhaps to Haley the writer and an acknowledgment of the importance of reading.

     

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    4 Comments

    1. Can you me find Alex Haley collection ? Need a address pls or web site.

      • Sorry, but I don’t know of any website that sells pieces of the collection. I would suggest Googling or checking eBay to find pieces for sale or up for auction.

    2. I have one of these pieces I purchased in the early 1990s. I love it so much. I brought it for my oldest son Jeffrey who loved to read. It is the one with the little boy sitting reading. It is one of my favorite collectibles.

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