Black Cloth Dollmaking: My Journey from“Primitive” to “Pammagination”
It seems like only yesterday I gave birth to my beautiful baby girl; since I set out to buy her first doll. After all, the first doll is a girl’s first best friend.
Twenty-eight years ago, I wanted to find my baby girl the perfect first best friend. Her own “Miss Priss” baby doll. One having the skin tone and features that characterize her beautiful face and hair texture, nurture self-esteem and portray our rich heritage.
To my frustration that task became more of a challenge than I had ever imagined. I searched hard and long, but there were no suitable black baby dolls. I only found hard vinyl dolls that were simply darker versions of their white counterparts.
I became obsessed (I sort of have an obsessive personality by nature btw…lol) with finding a solution to this frustrating problem. Before long, the answer soon became obvious. Given that I‘ve been a sewing and a crafting enthusiast for as long as I can remember, I decided to teach myself dollmaking!!
I was certain; I could make my daughter’s her first baby doll. Well, I lovingly made that first doll motivated and inspiration by the spirit of my ancestors, but with very primitive and limited dollmaking skills! It did not turned out quite like I had imagined. However, now 28 years later my daughter still cherishes that doll. So there you have it, my concern for the healthy development of my child’s self image started my dollmaking journey.
My love affair with black cloth rag dolls began with “Miss Priss”. The love for my daughter started me making cloth dolls. However, my love for The Art Of Dollmaking happened after reading elinor peace bailey’s book, Mother Plays with Dolls. It was then that cloth dollmaking became my passion!
I self taught and made dolls for years, but I was too insecure to show them beyond my family and close friends. They all loved my dolls and constantly encouraged me to go public with them, but I was too afraid… they weren’t reflecting my vision yet. (did I mention that I am a bit of a perfectionist? Lol) Plus, in my mind it was just a hobby not real art!!! I mean I have several friends who are “real” artists.
Some years later, in 2003, I timidly attended my first Doll University (commonly know as “Doll U”, a major national annual cloth dollmakers’ 3 day training event and conference). I was one of two Black women in attendance. I can’t prove it, but I think…I felt like… I was only novice among so many talented and seasoned dollmakers. I remember feeling so frighten, intimidated and insecure about my skills and the validity of my dollmaking vision. But, Elinor was there and I was so excited to take 3 days of instruction from the “Queen”.
To my good fortune and pleasure I volunteered and was selected to be Elinor’s classroom assistant!!! I got to sit up front with her, to sit beside her, and to receive (what felt like) special attention and encouragement directly from her for 3 days!!! I was in Nirvana!! That weekend of training with Elinor turbo-charged my passion and gave me the courage to take my dollmaking to the next level! To proclaim myself as an artist!!! To embrace my God giving talents and gifts…it was “the transformative experience” for me!!!
If you have ever taken a class with Elinor, I am certain that you quickly learned that she is a fabulous and inspirational storyteller. She believes and promotes that every doll maker should see themselves as a storyteller.
I have never forgotten the last gift of encouragement Elinor gave me that weekend. She told me to press through my fears, embrace my mistakes as opportunities to create and to courageously tell my story with my dolls. That confirmed my vision!!
Not surprising, I left that first Doll U excited and driven. I joined a local doll club. I read every book written by Elinor, Susanna Oroyan, Patti Medaris Culea and so many other cloth doll, mixed media, quilting and beading artists. I continued to attend the Doll U annual trainings for the next 2 years until they were no more. I learned the basic skills and gained the confidence needed to create my own style and designs….my vision! Thus, as the saying goes, “the rest is history”. A Contemporary Folk Artist was born and my PAMMAGINATION Released!!!!
Please share your doll making or collecting journey with me in the comments section
Dollin Blessings …until next time!