Friday, March 29, 2013

Having a Blast at the Show

"A good life is found only where the creative spirit abounds, where people are free to experiment and create new ideas within themselves," - Aileen Osborn Webb (1892-1979), founder and patron of the American Craft Council.

On Sunday March 17th I attended the American Craft Council retail show in Atlanta.  There were over 200 vendors offering hand-crafted items ranging from jewelry, furniture, glass and ceramic ware, to toys and musical instruments.  I got a hands on introduction to playing Native American flutes, watched a demonstration of copper etching techniques, and had a lot of fun trying on hats.  Soft sculpture dolls were the one category of craft that seemed in short supply.

When I spotted these dolls, the artist had stepped away from the booth.  

Fortunately I was able to interview her later by email.  Makenzye Barfield is a student pursuing a Bachelor's of Fine Art in Fibers at the Savannah College of Art and Design.  She designed this series of dolls around antique napkins.  I was impressed with the "green craft" ethos and Ms. Barfield's thoughtful discussion of her work.

Limbe Dolls:  Most people think of dolls as toys rather than art objects.  Even when dolls receive some appreciation as art, they are usually regarded as folk art.  Given that you are earning a Fine Arts degree, what made you choose to make dolls?

Barfield:  I have collected dolls since I was a kid so; making them was an intuitive decision. However, I also see society’s limitations on dolls and doll making as a challenge. Dolls are rooted in the past. How do I change people’s perception to what art can be and is.  

Limbe Dolls:  Personally I think that one reason dolls don't get the serious attention they deserve is that most of the artists that make them are women and women are most of the audience for them as well.  Do you think your dolls can speak to a general audience or are they more specific to women's experiences?

Barfield:  When making my dolls I consider both male and female representations. I am also interested in playing with gender neutrality and gender mixing. When working in a medium such as doll making, viewers have preconceived notions. They have experienced dolls and society tells them they are for girls and only exist for children’s play things. Traditionally, dolls were tools used to “train” young girls about motherhood. However, dolls can teach kids what is culturally acceptable and “normal”. If kids play with tattooed and mustachioed dolls they learn that people who have those characteristics are socially acceptable. I want my dolls to relate to those parents and people who might be considered social outcasts. Tattoos and feminine male dolls are just the beginning of characters I hope to create. 

Limbe Dolls:  I notice that your dolls' faces are embroidered which eliminates small parts that a child could pull off and swallow.  Do you intend your dolls for play or display or both?

Barfield:  Absolutely! I want children to be impacted by my dolls which, makes them art pieces. They are cute enough to collect but, they should be fully enjoyed. 

Limbe Dolls:  Where do you get the antique napkins you use to make the dolls?

Barfield:  I purchase many of my antique linen table napkins and handkerchiefs at local antique and thrift shops in Savannah.  

Limbe Dolls:  Did you design the dolls as an assignment for a class or was there some other motivation?

Barfield:  I started making dolls in my spare time as a way to de-stress. I had made dolls for family members’ babies before and I just kept going back to them. 

Limbe Dolls:  How long does it take you to make one of those dolls?

Barfield:  That is a tough one to answer. Depending on the doll it varies. I like to be part of every level of design from drafting my pattern to their clothing. If I could weave the fabric I make them out of, I would! 

Limbe Dolls:  Each of your dolls has a distinctive character.  Do you draw inspiration from people you know?

Barfield:  Yes, I do! Mr. Stash from Series 1 is modeled after my dad. His most distinctive trait is his mustache. Underneath that stash is a wonderful grin, just like my dad. The tweed fabric used to make Goldie was fabric from a coat I made my mom a few years ago. Butch is another one of my favorites!

He is bright yellow and lace-covered with a cute blue floral bow tie. Butch is my way of showing respect to the gay and lesbian community. Other traits are inspired by friends, myself and random strangers.

Limbe Dolls:  Most of my soft sculpture doll artist friends are also accomplished quilters.  What are some of the other fiber art projects you work on? 

Barfield:  I also thoroughly enjoy quilt making. I am really attracted to the storytelling aspects of quilting and that translates into my doll making. I have also designed and made some screen prints but, doll making and quilting are were my heart lies. 

Limbe Dolls:  Do you think you will continue making dolls?

Barfield:  Yes.

You can see more of Ms. Barfield's work on Behance, a social media site where you can showcase and discover creative work.

À Bientôt

Friday, March 8, 2013

Animal Magnestism

The articulated SIS dolls decked in Baby Phat fashions have vanished from my local Walmart and Target stores, but this week a new wave of SIS dolls hit the shelves.

Target priced them at $8.99 -- still too much for a doll with rigid knees but in-line with the manufacturer's suggested retail price.  This time Barbie's homegirls from Chicago aren't sporting designer labels, still their fashions present some novel variations on the animal print themes that have been popular of late.

Kara wears a sundress made up in a pink giraffe print.

Although she still brightens her hair as if to compensate for her darker complexion, the color is not as brassy as some of her earlier dye jobs.

The bouncy curls show a more playful side of her personality.

Grace also appears more lighthearted in a purple zebra print dress that leaves one should bare.

The keyhole neckline was not evenly stitched on every doll, but with her "I Dream of Genie" bangs and high ponytail, Grace can probably make many little girls' dreams come true.

Trichelle was missing from the articulated Baby Phat line up -- she must have been stuck in the make-up trailer since she has emerged with an appealing new face screen.

Earlier versions of Trichelle had side-glancing eyes that often made her seem hard and even a bit underhanded.  The new Trichelle meets the world head on with a fresh, doe-like gaze.

Trichelle's purple lipstick coordinates well with the unusual purple, green, and sparkly pink palette of her leopard print dress, but probably won't compliment many other outfits.

In earlier SIS waves, it seemed Mattel thought Trichelle was the only one light enough to risk leaving some texture in her hair.  While I miss her curls in this incarnation, I like her auburn highlights.

I did not like her "johnny one note" pose, however.

Fortunately I was able to upgrade her to an "I can be an Olympic skater" body, which is an exact match for her skin tone.  Since it lacks the pivotal torso and knees of the Fashionistas, it puts Trichelle on par with the other "articulated" SIS girls.

Now if the supply chain would catch up to the demand for SIS dolls, I would be utterly mesmerized.

À Bientôt

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Dazzling Dames

Red Hen Fabrics in Marietta, GA offers an enticing selection of quilting fabrics.   Since many of the Dazzling Dames are accomplished quilters as well as doll artists, whenever the members gather there for a doll club meeting, it’s like letting a gaggle of schoolgirls loose in a chocolate factory.  For example, Angela Ferguson’s interpretation of the Mad Hatter is intended as a wall hanging which will extend the play of textures and colors that mark the quilter’s art into the three dimensional realm of soft sculpture dolls.

In days of yore, young girls starting learning simple cross-stitch embroidery around the time they began to learn their ABCs.

Gradually they acquired a “vocabulary” of stitches that they displayed in a sampler.

Ideally the girl would master basic needlecraft and complete her sampler before she married.  Miss Joy started her sampler quilt 8 or 9 years ago as a gift for her mother.

It displays her mastery of applique techniques and her love for her first and best teacher who is now 92 years old.   

Miss Joy also shared one of the first dolls she designed back in the 1970s.

Her face does not require any fancy stitches, but it is has an appealing sweetness.

Soft sculpture art dolls can be deceptively simple to make or they can require sophisticated tools.  The technique of making expressive hands may lead the doll artist to pay a visit to a tobacco shop for old-fashioned pipe cleaners to shape the fingers.

The artist may also use a special set of small metal tubes to turn the fingers right side out.  The extra effort allowed Miss Lorraine’s winsome lass to offer a Valentine to her beloved. 

Doll artists often scour craft and knitting shops for unique fibers that can serve as hair.  Miss Lorraine’s purple-haired diva looks like she would be bold and direct about claiming her heart’s desire.

Shaping the contours of a soft sculpture figure may require the same cutting and draping skills as fitting a haute couture gown.  Martha Dudley made this doll in a three day workshop several years ago.

The instructor's training as a fashion designer enabled him to draft a pattern that endows the doll with a realistic bust line. 

Miss Martha’s  talent for drawing and sketching then infused the doll’s face with a unique personality.

Miss Martha’s real forte, however, is embellishment.

This lavishly bedecked mermaid guards a sunken chest filled with gems and doubloons, but she carries even more luxurious treasures on her shapely person.

Notice the tiny beads hand-stitched to her tail,

her elegant fingers with jeweled nails,

and her intricately beaded head-dress and necklace.

A hapless mariner could almost drown in her beguiling amethyst eyes…

You can learn to make Dazzling Dames like this siren in Martha Dudley’s mermaid class March 28th, 29th, and 30th at Red Hen Fabrics.

Contact the shop at (770) 794-8549 to register.

À Bientôt