Calvin Black (Possum Trot)


Calvin Black lived in California’s Mojave Desert where he created his “Possum Trot” environment that included 80 life-size dolls, each with its own personality, function and costume. Calvin and his wife, Ruby, spent nearly 20 years on a plot of land purchased in 1953 near Yermo, California and nicknamed “Possum Trot”. It was there that Calvin built the “Bird Cage Theatre,” where the dolls would perform and sing in a high falsetto voice on recordings made by the artist. Calvin lovingly carved the dolls and gave each a name and personality. Ruby dressed them in costumes she fashioned from old clothing. The childless couple treated the dolls much like the children they were unable to have.

The site was ultimately dismantled and the dolls found their way to various collectors and museums. Black’s work is in the collections of the Milwaukee Art Museum, The Museum of American Folk Art, and the Newark Museum, among others. 

Kohler Foundation acquired two dolls and an important selection of signs and ephemera from the site. Extensive conservation treatment was performed by Meghan Thumm Mackey Conservation of Madison, WI. The pieces were gifted to the collection of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.