Museum board puzzles out fate of mystery collection

HARLINGEN — It’s just not the kind of place dolls can call a house.

Harlingen Arts and Heritage Museum board members wrestled once again this week with their dilemma over a collection of 60-odd dolls which came to their facility in 2015. The dolls were “re-gifted” to the museum by the Harlingen Public Library where they were originally donated years before.

“We’ve talked about this a lot,” commented Wanda Greenhill, the museum board chair.

The issue for the museum is the dolls don’t fit its charter as being either art or heritage. Complicating matters is there is no “provenance” to the collection so museum officials don’t even know who donated it to the library.

“What we are looking for is the document,” said Joel Humphries, the city’s director of arts and entertainment. “When we got the dolls from the library we got no supporting paperwork. So we’ve asked for what supporting paperwork was done when the dolls were donated to the library.

“They don’t have it,” Humphries added. “That’s kind of where we are right now.”

The doll collection does not appear to have significant value to collectors if it eventually were to be sold at auction. The museum has put a price of $8,700 on the collection for insurance purposes.

“They aren’t really of historic value; they are just somebody’s collection of very pretty dolls,” said museum board member Sue DeBrooke.

For years since their acquisition by the museum, the dolls have nested without complaint in their individual boxes in a storage room in the Historical Museum. But that building is currently being renovated to add more than 40 new exhibits and will open to the public next spring.

“Our mission statement is pretty specific,” Humphries said. “And storage is at a premium.”

Finding a good home for a doll collection at a public facility isn’t as easy one might think.

Humphries added that, since there is no accompanying paperwork for the doll collection, there is no way to determine the donating family’s wishes for the fate of the dolls.

“We had a policy that if we ever got rid of any artifact or donation that we had to contact the owner or make an effort to,” said Gabe Gonzalez, assistant city manager. “Let me check with our legal counsel to see what they might be able to provide as far as guidance. Are you wanting to just get rid of them or destroy them?”

“No,” Humphries said, responding to the latter. “We would like to get rid of them and we would like to get rid of them through the auction process as opposed to going through the city auction to make them available for like Sotheby’s (an art auction house) and to actual doll collectors.”