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


  1. That is a lovely photo of you.

    Thanks for sharing a bit of your experience at the American Craft Council retail show.

    I enjoyed viewing Ms. Barfield's unique soft sculptured dolls and reading her interview. It's nice that she makes her dolls for people to collect and for children to enjoy.


  2. Hello from Spain: How lucky you could go to the exhibition of handicrafts. A very interesting interview. Mrs. Barfield creates beautiful and original dolls Are you the photo of the magazine cover? We keep in touch.

  3. Glad you got to attend the show. I became aware of it right after it left. I agree that is a very nice picture of you. I enjoyed the interview and the links.

  4. Hi All,

    Thanks for your comments. As a fundraiser the ACC had a booth where you could get your picture on a simulated cover of their magazine. I made them do 3 or 4 re-takes before we got one I liked. :-)

  5. Wow! So pretty:)