KINDRED SPIRITS IN THE TOYROOM (text from the little book held by the doll above)
Many years ago, 1980 if I am to be exact about things, I first learned of Tasha Tudor. Later that same year I needed to design a special entry for a prestigious show. I was inspired by an illustration by Tasha Tudor, of children having a tea party with assorted dolls. At the same time I was observing my own four year old daughter happily playing with my sought after handmade dolls, which was how I made our living, alongside horrible (to my sensibilites) plastic dolls of the times in all sizes and types with a few stuffed animals thrown in for companions no matter the unlikeliness of style, gender or condition.
This theme commonly appears in stories of beloved dolls etc. and begins in history. Dolls are thought to be one of the oldest art forms, most likely because they are small images of ourselves and it is also probable that the first dolls were not for children at all, but for religious purposes. But at some point in the quite distant past, dolls did became favorite playthings of children and later much desired collectibles for all ages.
Particularly appealing are the humble handmade dolls, mostly of cloth but also of wood or other common materials, whose makers lacked a certain sophistication that is a hallmark of the finer china and porcelain dolls that were “store-bought” and made in production environments. What seems to be clear about these more primitive dolls is that no matter how unlikely their shape or artistic style, the charm comes from the very lack of pretense and, in the case of old dolls that have become collectible, the patina that age has lent to them.
There is, I believe, a basic truth told in the favorite children’s tale, “The Velveteen Rabbit”, that runs a bit like this - that dolls (or stuffed rabbits) take on real life when they have been loved enough. There is nothing else to descibe the state of mind that these old dolls can create when beheld by someone who appreciates them.
Another aspect of dolls that may determine their lasting lovability is size. I saw again and again with my daughter (and indeed, in my own childhood memories) that the dolls that remained in favor after the first blush of new had worn off (that is there for any size doll), were the dolls just right to hold in your hand. Small is special, no denying.
What I have learned from studying antique dolls has been illuminating in my understanding of my own dollmaking. It has taught me how the spirit in a doll comes to be and why some dolls have it and some don’t. This realization has to do with how much the things around us become our point of reference and influence our perception and our creativity if we happen to create things like dolls. This is what I learned which is especially true of cloth dolls, which are, in fact, often the type which become the most beloved: Today we have pictures all around us. As we eat breakfast, there are pictures on the cereal box; we have books and magazines, billboards, movies, TV and, of course, the internet. But imagine a time when all there was were the basic tools for life - books being costly and rare at best and very little education for most, especially for the people who sewed or made wooden dolls in early times. Unless you were a natural artist, how to draw the human form was a real problem with nothing for a pictorial reference. Sewing was most certainly an ordinary skill, but most could not draw nor draft a pattern. So that what we have today is a collection of true spirits that came to life in the simple expression of these dolls and often because of someone’s love for a child and the wisdom and patience to see the need and carry out such a basic thing as a doll. And the essence of that spirit is what makes charm and a true heart in a doll (of any sort) whether it is today or a hundred years ago. This is how I have always made my dolls.