The past is lost by some and hunted by many. Charlotte Scott found her past in the animated faces of Miss Martha’s “All God’s Children” figurine collection.
“Black figurines used to look like pieces that you would get at the dollar store. ... If you look at Miss Martha’s pieces, you can see how she really worked on the figurines’ facial structure,” Scott explained.
Martha Holcombe, aka Miss Martha, began creating predominately black figurines in the 1980s. As Holcombe said on her website, “My goal is for AGC to send a message to society — evoking feelings that transcend race and age...”
Scott first noticed the figurines while gift shopping in 1990 at a collector’s store on Keith Street.
“They all have their own stories and names,” Scott said. “There was just something about them that reminded you of your past and the things you did as a child.”
Reminders of her past kept the figurines real for Scott.
“When we were little kids, we would run to the store here in Cleveland called Vest Groceries. During lunchtime at school, you would buy an RC and a Moonpie,” Scott explained as she pointed out a figurine holding the same snack. “It just took you back to your school days.”
The business eventually closed, leaving Scott with no way to buy the figurines. Her personal collection held about five pieces until 1996.
“One of the ladies at my church knew I liked them so she decided to start a charter club,” Scott said. “We got the club together and named it the Tri State CDC Club.”
On Oct. 5, 1996 the Tri State CDC club officially came into existence. The 23 members were as serious about collecting as they were about their club.
“We were a nonprofit organization, so sometimes we would give away some scholarships,” Scott said.
The Tri State CDC [Cleveland, Dayton, Chattanooga] club would meet one Saturday a month at a member’s house.
“We would discuss where Miss Martha was going to be signing and which pieces a member needed to go in their group to complete a section,” Scott explained. “If somebody saw it we could call them to see if they wanted us to get it or not.”
The club would also discuss the monthly newsletter catalogues that Miss Martha sent out. These catalogues alerted collectors to new pieces and where to find them.
“It was just like one big, happy family,” Scott recalls. “I met so many people over the phone looking for pieces.”
Scott also met fellow collectors at the “reunions.” Miss Martha would host one on her land every summer.
“People would come from all around — California, Texas, New York, Chicago, Floridia, etc. We would buy pieces, sell pieces and dress up like pieces,” Scott said. “You would just get drawn into them because it was just so different.”
New figurines constantly sparked races between the collectors.
“When the pieces came out they would all have numbers [on the bottom]. You wanted to get the lowest number because it held a higher value,” Scott said. “The higher the value, the higher the resale.”
Scott enjoyed the thrill of the chase.
“It was the drive. It was the thrill of getting a piece that I knew the others did not have,” Scott recalls. “When I got my piece I would always make sure they got their pieces, as well.”
According to Scott, members would seek out her help.
“I would find pieces for the club. I would bargain them down and I would get them at a good price,” Scott said. “So everyone in the club would say, ‘Charlotte, I need this piece and I need that piece.’”
Scott says most of her pieces, which number in the hundreds, have been signed by Miss Martha.
“She was only supposed to sign five or six pieces, but if there were not that many people then she would sign more,” Scott explained. “So we would always take more than we were supposed to get signed.”
Scott collected the pieces for about 10 years before tragedy struck the club.
“A member, Terrell Richardson, passed away suddenly and the club started to dissolve. He was the backbone of the group and one of the charter members,” Scott said.
The Tri-State CDC club found it hard to stay together after Richardson’s passing.
“We would come together for the fellowship and the love for the pieces,” Scott said. “When Terrell died we just kind of fell apart. It just hurt the heart to be reminded that he wasn’t there.”
Miss Martha’s collection also began to look repetitious, Scott said.
“You would have the same piece, but in a different color,” Scott explained as she points out the same child figurine in two different dresses. “Miss Martha sold the land where the reunions were held and people just stopped coming. It all kind of fizzled out.”
Scott does not regret the 10 years she spent collecting the figurines. Each piece is proudly shown in three curio cabinets found throughout her house.
“Something about the pieces remind you, relate to your past,” Scott said. “And when you saw it you wanted to keep ahold of it.”