Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Incomplete Lada Draskovic

One the most interesting lives I've come across while writing Papergreat is the that of Lada Draskovic.

Her story, as I know it, remains incomplete. And it's not just incomplete, but scattered across several different posts.

So I thought I'd compile everything I know about her in one place, for the sake of completeness and perhaps to make it easier for someone who's seeking (or sharing) information about Draskovic and her Sweetniks.

Part I: The Photo

I was flipping through the 1961 Compton Yearbook in early 2011 and came across the interesting entry for "Toys." The entry includes this photo, the caption for which reads: "BEATNIK DOLLS. These unusual dolls, called 'sweetniks,' are shown with their creator, Yugoslavia's Lada Draskovic, in Rome."

Beatnik dolls? Sweetniks? Lada Draskovic? The mystery was afoot. I asked readers to help out as we worked together to discover more.

Part II: Some Digging Online

While I asked readers to help find information about Draskovic and her dolls, I also did some digging of my own. This is what I came across.

In 2003, Edgar Chavasse, who served in the British military in World War II, posted a note on Rodoslovlje, the website of the Serbian Genealogical Society, seeking information on the three children of the Draskovic family. Chavasse wrote: "The eldest Dejan (?) went to University in Italy to study Law. The daughter Lada was also in Italy and the youngest Stojan was killed in 1944/5 and is buried in a small cemetery by the water near Kotor. Their father did not survive the war and their mother was in Dubrovnik in 1947/8. I knew Dejan and Lada in Florence 1944-1946 but then lost touch. If they are alive they will be nearly 80 by now but I would be very grateful for any information."

Chavasse had some success with his research and checked back to the same forum with this update in 2005. (Note: I have cleaned up some typos and punctuation in the following excerpt.)
"Let me set out what I know. The family Draskovic was resident in Kotor Bokarska until World War II. I believe that the father may have been executed by Tito's Communist forces in 1944 and that this was reported in the local press. The mother moved to Dubrovnik where she was living in mid 1947 when I visited her there whilst still in the Army and attached to The British Embassy in Belgrade. I also visited and photographed Stojan's grave and was told he had been killed in action against the Germans in 1944. As to Dejan I think he was possibly at Bologna University rather than, say Padova. He was with a group of Italian Partizans north of Assisi and, after the liberation, fell gravely ill in Gubbio during October 1944. I took his sister [Note from Chris: That would be Lada] over to get him from there and brought him back to Florence, where he recovered. That was a hair-raising journey by jeep with no windscreen in bad weather. At the time I was part of a small unit waiting to go into Bologna, but we never achieved it. Lada was working as a receptionist at The Excelsior Hotel in Florence from after the liberation in 1944 until late 1947, when she may have married an Italian businessman in the hardware business. At that time the Excelsior was an Officers Rest Hotel run by the US Army. Unfortunately all their staff records were lost in the postwar flood disaster. The then-manager, "Boris", was transferred to the Danieli in Venice, but has died so there are no leads there."
Later in 2005, Chavasse mentions in a post that he has "succeeded in tracing Lada Draskovic," but doesn't specify what that means or give any further information. And that part of the trail has ended there, barring future contact with Chavasse.

Part III: A Sweetnik Owner

An email from Deborah Greife helped with the furthering of this story.

She wrote me the following note: "I have one of the Sweetnik dolls from Italy. I have been trying to research and find more information on them, but this blog is the only place I've found any reference to them at all, other than a PDF someone has that is a scanned image of a newspaper page with the same photo you have here. I'm really trying hard to find out more about these dolls and their creator. Any help would be appreciated."

This is the PDF newspaper image that Deborah Greife is referring to. It's from the February 8, 1960, edition of The Leader-Herald in Gloversville-Johnstown, New York. While it is the same photo featured previously on Papergreat, the caption is different and sheds some new light on Sweetniks:
"DOLLSVILLE -- Unusual beatnik dolls, called 'sweetniks,' naturally, surround their creator, Lada Draskovic, in Rome. The dolls are dressed in loose-fitting sweaters, toreador pants and sandals. Their straggly, woolen hair is done in bright red, blue, orange and green. Selling like hotcakes in Rome, the way-out dolls may soon be introduced to U.S.-ville."
Deborah and I exchanged some further emails and she sent me some great photos (shown below) of her Sweetnik doll. She adds: "I attached some pics of my doll and her cat. I forgot to mention that she has a cat! The cat has no tags but she is wearing 2 bangle bracelets and 1 bracelet has a tin tag that reads: SWEETNIK on one side and the other side reads: 'Brevettato Patented Made in Italy.' ... Maybe with some luck we will get to the bottom of the mystery of the sweetnik dolls. I will contact some doll collector sites and see if I can get more info as well."

Deborah also added, on Collectors Weekly, this description of the doll: "She is made of sticks with a ceramic or clay head, her arms feel like pipe cleaners, her dress is cardboard covered in felt."


So that's where this story and ongoing mystery stand as of January 2013. (See this 2018 addendum for more information.) I'll keep digging when I have time. And if anyone has anything to share about the Draskovic family or Sweetniks, please contact me in the comments section below, by email at chrisottopa@gmail.com, on Papergreat's Facebook page, or on Twitter @Papergreat.


  1. http://boards.ancestry.co.uk/surnames.drashcovich/4.5/mb.ashx

  2. http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/beat-beatnik-figure-brevettato-italy-456228972