Unknown ARTIST | Ginger Meggs doll

Unknown ARTIST
working Australia 1960s

Ginger Meggs doll c.1960
wool and acrylic
43.2 (h) x 27.4 (w) x 9.1 (d) cm
Gift of Diana Cameron 1988
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 1988.452


‘A knitted toy of Australia’s most beloved comic strip character is available for the first time. He’s bound to be the most popular present you could give at any time, and he’s definitely a new toy.’[1]

Ginger Meggs is indisputably one of Australia’s most popular and enduring fictional characters. From his first appearance in the inaugural 1921 Us fellers comic strip, the rakish redhead appears to have been highly desirable. Those who could not afford commercially manufactured dolls sought an alternative in knitting patterns which featured instructions to create ‘your very own’ Ginger Meggs as early as the 1930s. So let’s start: take some 4-ply Super Scotch Fingering wool (3oz red, 2oz pink, 1oz black, 1oz white), and a pair of No 10 needles…

A squishy, floppy infant slumped in a vitrine masquerading as soft sculpture? Is this a quirky joke? Ginger Meggs is somewhat slapdash, yet lovingly made, but he looks out of place―especially in a ‘boutique’ of multiples and other small sculpture, in an art gallery surrounded by the work of internationally renowned artists. Wild red hair ablaze, mischievous Ginger looks at us with a mad look in his hand-stitched eyes. He wears his signature vest―black at the front and striped like a football jersey at the back―but where on earth are his pants? Cast on 60 stitches, using red wool, knit 3, knit 2, knit 8, repeat ….

The humble doll makes no grand artistic statements. It represents the continuation of the ‘make do’ attitudes which have breathed life into Australian folk and popular arts during times of hardship and poverty. In contemporary practice we see the revival of the knitted toy. In Luke Roberts’s All souls of the revolution 1976–94, over 300 soft toys are tacked to the wall in the manner of insects in a museum, a fate which Ginger Meggs has avoided by his status as an Australian folk object rather than a cast-off toy.

Niki van den Heuvel
Exhibition Assistant, International Art
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


[1] Sheelah Lyle, Knitted toys: introducing the popular Ginger Meggs, Gerry the Giraffe, Gwenda the Doll, Humpty Dumpty, Rajah the Elephant and Harry the Horse, Associated Newspapers Ltd, Sydney, [no date]; the instructions are from this pattern