2012 St. John Festival Food Fair Gwendolyn R. Harley was born on the beautiful island of St. Thomas under the sign of Aries on April 14, 1931. She is the fourth of eight children born to the late William and Lolita Chinnery Blyden.
Gwendolyn Harley obtained her elementary and secondary edcuation in the USVI public school system. She continued her studies with Polytechnic Institute of Puerto Rico (Inter-American University), Hampton-On-Islands (Hampton Institute, VA) New York University, Hartford University Right to Read Project, and the University of the Virgin Islands.
Mrs. Harley is a teacher by profession, retiring from the Department of Education in June 1990. Later, she taught at the Moravain School on St. Thomas.
In her community, Harley was a Girl Scout leader, a Sunday School teacher and a member of the Business and Professional Women’s Club. She is a member of the American Legion Auxiliary, Patrick V. George Unit #90, a member of Christchurch Methodist Church Women’s League and of the Community to Revive our Culture.
At the age of seven, she was taught to sew by her mother, Lolita Chinnery Blyden. That is when she began making dolls from her mother’s sewing scraps. What began as a hobby, eventually developed into a busy enterprise.
In the late summer of 1984, Mrs. Harley decided to make historical dolls and animals with the idea that the dolls had to be handmade, because at that time, there were not many arts and craft stores in the Virgin Islands.
The inspiration for Gwen’s Dolls and Animals are based on Virgin Islands culture. Each doll costume is historically detailed right down to the lace-edged pantalets and hand-woven straw hats. The dolls include Market Ladies, party ladies known as Quadrille Dancers, Bamboula Dancers, French Ladies and French Men. The animals are donkeys, mongoose and iguanas.
Her dolls and animals, which represent the USVI culture, have won her three first prizes, one special prize and two special awards Tillett Garden’s Arts Alive Fair in 1986-90 and 1992.
At the Virgin Islands Carnival Fair, Mrs. Harley’s dolls have won first prize in 1989-92, 1994 and 1995. In November 1990, at the St.Thomas/St. John Agricultural and Food Fair she won first prize. She also won first prize at the Agriculture Fair Exhibition in Tortola, BVI during Farmer’s Week 1995.
Mrs. Harley was honored for her cultural dolls and animals in November 1996 at Tillet Garden’s 50th Annual Arts Alive Fair. Again in 1997, the V.I. Carnival Fair Committee honored Mrs. Harley and named the Carnival Food Fair in her honor. The Carnival Food Fair was named “Gwen’s Doll House.”
From 2000 through 2004, Mrs. Harley won first prize for her cultural dolls and animals at the Carnival Fair on St. Thomas. She also won for her replicas of historical buildings such as Government House, Fort Christian, Emancipation Garden, Senate Building, and the Annaberg Plantation, which was donated to the Elaine I. Sprauve Library on St. John.
Each doll is one of a kind and are named with the suffix “lyn” in honor of Mrs. Harley’s first name. Her enterprise is called “Gwen’s Historical U.S. Virgin Islands Dolls and Animals.”
The dolls and animals are sold at her Mahogany Estate home on St. Thomas, where she also takes special orders. For more information about Harley’s dolls, call her at 776-2706.