A native of Lexington, Mary Reed has been working with cornshucks for over 20 years. Cornshucks are the outer layer or husks that cover an ear of corn as it grows. These corn husks or cornshucks are removed and gathered after the corn is harvested. Historically, since the cultivation of corn, shucks have been used for mattress stuffing, ropes (made by twisting wet shucks), chair seats woven from shuck ropes, baskets, and cushions. In South America and in Mexican cuisine, cornshucks are used to wrap foods for steaming and then used as a plate. After WW II, in Europe, cornshucks were used to make shoes and early Kentucky pioneers used cornshucks to stiffen hat brims and make bonnets. The cornshuck doll is a 300 year old tradition in America, taught to the Pilgrims by the American Indians.
Mary Reed is a self-taught craftsperson and creates works from cornshucks that are either field gathered or purchased. She bleaches the shucks and uses fabric dye to achieve a variety of colors for making her dolls. The shucks are prepared by soaking them in water for five minutes and blotting them. A cornshuck doll starts with a head made from a tissue paper ball covered with a twisted cornshuck. The limbs and body are created from shucks cut into different shapes from cardboard patterns, then wrapped and twisted around wire. Mary Reed creates cornshuck doll kits that are regularly available at the Kentucky Artisan Center.
Works by this artisan can be found at the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea, Berea, KY.