She was born and raised in central Indiana, where her father, Enos
Dowling, was a country preacher and worked with several small
churches surrounding Indianapolis.
As a child, Anita suffered
several instances of rheumatic fever, starting at the age of 7 and
recurring six times between then and early adulthood. As a result of
her illness, she spent a great deal of time alone and had to use her
imagination to entertain herself. This is the imagination that
eventually led to her now labeling herself a "miniature
illusionist." She says, "I look at things and I don't see what other
people see. I don't see what it is, but what I can do with it."
Her collection of dollhouses exceeds 100, and each house has a
story behind it. Anita says she has taken her life facts and gently
embellished them into a fictional tale.
Her craft began when she fell ill at 10 years of age and her
mother taught her to sew. This added another skill to feed her vast
imagination, and she soon was making all sorts of things from
On her 12th Christmas, her gift was not one, but two dollhouses.
She received the dollhouses but no dolls or furniture. So, using
modeling clay, she made 22 dolls and then used her sewing skills to
make complete wardrobes for each of them.
For furniture, she scraped the silver off old pocket mirrors and
used toothpicks and modeling clay to make tables, chairs, beds and
other items to decorate her "homes."
When at 14 years of age she started dating her first beau,
Anita's mother decided that she was too old to play with dolls and
dollhouses and gave them all away.
"I have been on a hunt for things ever since, and it just got out
of hand," she laughs. "Whenever I present programs on the dolls, I
say that my mother is responsible for me being a doll collector
because she gave everything away!"
Among the dollhouses, there are some unusual items, such a travel
trailer, painted silver to resemble the earliest Streamliner
Anita explains that in 1952 the church where her father preached
was preparing to build a new parsonage. The family spent that summer
in a travel trailer much like the one she made.
It was at this point in time that she received a proposal of
The next year her mother and father moved to Lincoln. Her father
became a professor at Lincoln Christian College in 1953 and was the
first dean of the seminary.
Anita built her first dollhouse in 1985, when she still lived in
Indianapolis. The large house stands about 4 feet tall and is
decorated from floor to attic with miniature furniture, dishes and a
very detailed kitchen, complete with teddy bear cookie jar (another
item Anita collects in life size).
That dollhouse is also the home of the smallest dollhouse she's
ever built. It is located in the attic playroom -- a tiny dollhouse
for the little girls who live there. The nicely detailed, two-story
miniature house fits in the palm of the hand.
When Anita moved to Lincoln in the early '90s to help take care
of her father and an aunt, this first house that she had built was
the only one that she moved into her father's home. Since then she
has built in excess of 100 houses, not just for herself, but also
for family and friends.
As an active member of the Lincoln Christian Church, Anita also
contributes to their Harvest of Talents each year, usually with a
Anita hopes to eventually donate the "Lincoln House" miniature
that is currently on display at Cape Landing in downtown Lincoln to
the new Heritage Museum at Lincoln College.
On any given day, Anita has several projects going on throughout
her home. She says that she shifts from one miniature house to
another and right now has two she's working on inside her home and
another four in the workshop shed outside.
Houses she has on display include a day care center called Miss
Bunny's; a floral and landscaping shop; a dressmaker's shop,
complete with a dress on a dress form in the front bay window; a
replica of the home her parents built in 1941; a replica of a
cottage in Minnesota her father, husband and herself built; and a
Mom and Pop's Gas Station and Motel, complete with Coca-Cola signs
and pop machines at the gas station; plus many, many more houses.
The pride of her collection, though, is the community she calls
"Kingsville." You're invited to visit Kingsville through today's
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Still on her "to do" list is a bus that she plans to make,
representing the old bookbinder who used to make the rounds.
Anita says that her father loved books and spent many years
seeking out hard-to-find publications for the college library. Today
the college has a room named for her father that is all rare
She says that the binder bus would come around and repair damaged
books. This was how her father learned to do binding himself. Anita
says it is a fitting tribute to her father and his love of books
that she should add the binder's old bus to her collection.
If you don't believe that Anita lives and breaths dollhouses,
just ask her doctor! A few years ago she took a bad fall and ended
up breaking both arms, one so severely that it required surgery.
When the surgery was done and she was awakened, her doctor informed
her that he now knew everything there was to know about dollhouses
because under anesthesia she had talked constantly and in detail
She said that he later expressed the stress he felt, wondering
whether he had done a good enough job on her arm so that she would
be able to continue her labors of love.
In addition to the dollhouses, Anita collects antique and vintage
dolls. The majority of what looks to be a thousand or more dolls she
has gotten secondhand, many of them damaged. She has taught herself
to refurbish the dolls and even does this type of thing for others.
Included in the collection are tiny dolls less than a half-inch
tall, all the way up to life-size babies and toddlers. She has
several vintage Gene dolls from Ashton-Drake, bride dolls, 11-inch
fashion dolls such as Barbie, plus a collection of Beanie Babies,
and panda teddy bears.
She belongs to the Logan County Doll Club and often gives talks
to the group on repairing and collecting dolls.
Anita says it is important to know what a doll is made of before
you start working on it. Whether it is porcelain, composition or
hard plastic, each one has to be handled in a unique way.
Over the years, Anita has developed her own filler mix for
repairing damaged composition dolls. Anita says that she bought
filler and was not pleased with it, plus it was quite expensive, so
she started experimenting with different mediums until she found her
own formula. She does share the formula with fellow collectors but
says she is not interested in selling it to businesses or
Anita, with the support of her children and grandchildren, has a
goal for the future of opening a museum here in Lincoln with
dollhouses and dolls.
She says that they have researched and found that there are
tourism grants available, but before they can apply, they must have
a building. So far the buildings they have looked at are not large
enough to do what they want to do.
The museum would house all the dollhouses, plus the doll
collections, and would offer a research library focused on dolls.
These plans also include a fully illustrated book showing each house
she has built and telling the "fact and fiction" story surrounding
Hopefully that museum will someday come to be, but in the
meantime, if you are lucky enough to be invited into Anita's home,
don't pass up the opportunity.
The home full of dollhouses will make you feel like a child
again, filled with wonder and totally consumed by all the eye can