I’d heard of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, but didn’t know much about her until a 2018 ‘Stuff You Missed in History Class’ podcast. Since then, everything I learn about this woman ~ born enslaved, emancipated then orphaned with younger siblings to care for, a teacher, an investigative journalist and newspaper publisher, anti-lynching activist, suffragist, civil rights pioneer ~ leaves me in awe. Any one of those is enough for a single lifetime, and she was ALL of them.
The more I’ve learned, the more I had to add Wells to my feminist Funko collection. (I still don’t understand why Funko hasn’t added black women to their American History line. Ok, I do understand, it’s the misogyny and the racism, but imagine how Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells POPs would completely change the narrative around Funko. Free marketing advice!)
For inspiration, I looked at a number of pictures, but mostly the Mary Garrity photo of Wells from c. 1893. I knew I’d need to recreate Wells’ iconic hairstyle and wanted an outfit as similar as possible to an old fashioned long dress / gown. My donor POP selections were Black Panther’s Nakia (left) and Mary Poppins (right).
My first plan was to make a mold of Nakia’s hair and use that to shape air-dry paper clay matching Wells’ upswept hair do. But that didn’t work out because, 1) mold making is not as easy as it looks and 2) when the POP is actually out of the box, you can tell Nakia’s hair is pretty curly ~ Wells’ photographed hair style is not.
Instead, I winged it, building up the paper clay in thick layers until I got a good height, adding the bun and then creating brushed texture by pressing a wet terry washcloth into the clay. After waiting about a week to make sure it was really dry… LOOK AT HOW FREAKIN’ GOOD IT TURNED OUT!
Screw being modest. I ROCKED THIS HEAD SCULPT! Less well done, but still pretty good, was the teeny-tiny paper clay bow I added to the front of the dress’ neckline for additional dimension and color.
Speaking of color, I think I was unduly influenced by all the 19th century photographs of Wells. There’s no real way to match her skin tone from a black and white photo, so I custom mixed a brown that felt right. I’m also not sure the about the dress colors. On Michelle Duster’s new book, Ida B. Wells The Queen, the image of Wells is wearing pinks and oranges. But I don’t have pinks or orange paints in my stash right now and bright colors seem anachronistic, even if they aren’t. People today have a warped view of historic colors ~ Greek sculptures were brightly painted, not white! Victorian decor was actually so gaudy the green color literally killed people! ~ but, ultimately, I’m happy with the black and grey gown I ended up with.
(It may be silly, but I imagine this was Wells right before the conductor dragged her off of the train after she refused to give up her seat in 1884 ~ it’s an “Are you kidding me with this shit?” kind of pose.)
After I tweeted about finishing this POP, Wells-Barnett’s great-granddaughter responded! She thought it was very cute and linked me to the family-run Ida B. Wells Memorial Foundation that continues to honor the Wells legacy today. If you like my work creating this Ida B. Wells Funko POP, and can afford to, please make a donation to the Foundation. Thank you!