Antique Red Boy's Dress

3rd quarter of the 19th century,
boys red dress of sheer wool, trimmed in black,
O'Neill Collection
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An Artist's Journey, Allen Cunningham

Dixie's Note: Through the magic of Facebook, I saw a picture of one of Allen Cunningham's creations. I was intrigued with the whimsical nature of his work, but I could also see the inspiration of antique dolls clearly in his work. So I asked him to share his journey here.

How long have you been making dolls?

I have been experimenting/making dolls for just over 20 yrs (gosh! you'd think my work would be really good by now!) I was trained in teaching and fine arts (Bachelor of Science in education, Youngstown State University). I worked in the fine arts first, specializing in watercolor. My first efforts in doll selling were framed pen and ink illustrations and framed paper doll sheets. 3-d dolls followed closely....this was about 1997.

A recent piece of Allen's

How did you begin selling your work?

I began selling at a store I frequented while I was living in Southern CA. This store was located in Orange, CA and it was called Uncle Tom's. I approached the owner with my work, she liked my things, and I would set up a display and sell at the open houses. Some of these early attempts were inspired by all the primitive Raggedy Anne's that were in style at the time. I thought I could do "at least as well" as what I saw and that items in paperclay would be a little more unique.

Describe your creative process.

For the most part, I see a finished doll in my mind. Other than scale diagrams and clothing patterns, I seldom do detailed sketches. However, I will make notes, so I don't forget the ideas. Mostly, the end results will be as seen in my mind. If anything changes, it is the addition of more details...perhaps an added hair ornament, an extra trim on a skirt, or an added accessory in the hand. Inspiration- antique dolls and toys in my collection, books, magazine article, photos... antique illustrations form children's books.

What is your favorite doll that you've made and why is it your favorite?

A favorite creation was my recent work is a Hallowe'en Card Reader. She was quite large (for my work) at 12" tall and was inspired by the18th century Queen Anne-type dolls. This is a form/style that I have wanted to try for a long time and I finally made time to give it a try.

How has your work changed since you began doll making?
How do you see it changing in the future?

My original attempts at doll making were definitely more primitive. I have worked to refine my sculpting, but still try to maintain a look that is antique doll-inspired. In the future, I hope to keep refining.

Allen's Present Work:

Where do you create your dolls?

I have an apartment built on to the back of my house. It is approx. 550 square feet. The kitchen is 200 square feet and this is my main work area. I have "stations" for sculpting/painting, sewing, and assembly.... and access to a sink, which is quite convienient.

There is also plenty of storage for supplies, two bookcases and a cupboard for my "library" of reference books.

With a bedroom, living room, and bathroom, it is also nice for my friend who visits from Oregon. As she is also an artist, we can shut out the world and work to our heart's content. It's very self-contained, my tiny kingdom...oh, and I don't keep a phone in the studio!

Describe your dolls from childhood:

I loved dolls as a child...though, it's "action figures" for little boys, haha! I still have some of them. I must have "played nice" because they are in decent condition. I liked my Big Jim doll, er.... action figure... he had a great truck with a camper on back. We had many fantastic adventures together. I have a doll that I made at age three or four. It was made with a glass 7-UP bottle, a sock head with inked features, and a corduroy tunic.

What were your other play interests as a child?

As a child, Mom always said I had a wild imagination. I don't remember being consumed by tv.... there were only three channels then and I remember when the Watergate trials came on, that was my cue to go outside....boy, was that a boring show! I liked drawing, acting out plays based on storybooks (I played all the characters), wiffle ball and swing sets with neighborhood kids.

Please share images of your antique dolls...

a china boy flower peddlar, circa 1860
formerly in the collections of John Darcy Noble

I am definitely an antique doll enthusiast. They seem to call to me. They have some many secret stories and challenge me to discover what the stories may be. They are also such perfect little physical remnants of the past.

an unmarked French fashion doll circa 1860

Call me crazy, but I can feel the "vibrations" of all the people that have come into contact with antique dolls. They definitely don't have to be pretty. I feel the humble dollies are often the most fascinating!

two milliner-types, circa 1860

At the moment, my favorite dolls are French fashion dolls, milliner-type dolls, and Grodner-Tal woodens.

What are your hobbies?

Hobbies.... doll and toy research, scoping out even the rattiest antique and junk shops, walking, reading, collecting Vaudeville/theatre memorabilia.

Do you have a doll making technique tip you'd like to share?

My doll making techniques are all a lot of voo-doo. I'm sure most people would think I'm crazy, if they saw me working! Regarding clothing patterns... paper towels work well for drafting a nicely fitted bodice... if careful, it can be sewn and it's a lot cheaper than muslin.

Is there anything you'd like to share about making antique inspired dolls that we haven't covered?

Regarding overall look for antique-inspired dolls, keep the color pallet somewhat light and faded. I have seen some lovely attempts spoiled by harsh, saturated colors. Not a hard and fast rule, but just something I keep in mind and that works for me.

What keeps you engaged in the doll creating process?

There is always some new article written, a doll to see in a shop or show, or a fabulous antique prop... it's all out there waiting and that's what keeps me motivated and inspired.

Who are your favorite doll makers (living or not)?

Just off the top of my head... modern, R John Wright- brilliant and very nice. I got to spend time with him and his wife at the UFDC Convention in New Orleans.... old, Jumeau and Gaultier firms for their fashion dolls.

What museum that you've visited has been most influential in your work?

Influential museums.... one that really pops out is the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery...OH! a wonderous place!!!

Favorite quote or quotes?

"It's very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present.
You know what I mean? It's awfully difficult."

Edith Beale
the world's greatest dancer
1916 - 2002

What question would you ask another doll maker that you have not been asked?

Allen's question:

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?

For me, it's not about financial gain or "fame." I hope that people get a warm feeling and from my work. Something very personal between them and me. I would also be honored if my work was cherished for a lifetime and passed on to generations in the future.

Click here to read Allen's Bio

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An Interesting Antique Cloth
Linen Head Doll Courtesy of Lou McCulloch

Lou McCulloch, a member of the Maida Dolls group, posted pictures of a very interesting antique doll. I asked Lou if I could post them here for all of you to enjoy. Lou is an artist, so be sure to visit Lou's blog and thank her for sharing. I asked some doll collectors about this, and Kathy Turner of Virtu Dolls had the following to say about this doll:
"They are American made, out of New York. 2 doll makers both had patents for similar methods of making pressed linen/muslin head dolls sometimes over a pasteboard base (Weigand type). One was Carl Weigand and the other was George Hawkins. Hawkins patent was 1868 and his dolls were directly molded from existing china doll heads. Some did have a wire support frame too."
What I especially love about this doll is that it is painted cloth, but many of the design features are reminiscent of papier mache and china dolls of the time. Lou's doll is wearing the most dreamy early dress. Enjoy!

See the wire frame around the shoulder head edge?

This face is so inspiring!

A sweet folky hand
Wonderful red shoes
Wonderful Doll!

Kathy Turner graciously shared
images of a similar doll for comparison.
These are charming dolls!

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An Artist's Journey:
Mandy Broome of Fiddlestix Studios

Mandy Broome of Fiddlestix Studios makes antique inspired creations with charm and a dash of whimsy. Here is the story of Mandy's Artist Journey.

How long have you been making dolls? Did you make another kind of art first? How long have you been selling them?
I have been making dolls since 2002. I have been selling them since 2002 as well, locally then, but mostly online for almost three years now.

How did you begin selling your work? What was the first doll you made with the intention to sell like? What prompted you to make that doll?

I began selling my work by friends prompting me to do so. Someone that had seen my papier-mache characters invited me to do a local show, then a local gift shop asked me to put them in their shop. Then,a couple years later, I decided to take the plunge and sell online. The first doll I made with intention to sell was a Pumpkin Man. He didn't sell, and now I'm so glad I still have him!

My love of antique dolls and Vintage Halloween items led me to make my first dolls from papier mache. From there, I was absolutely hooked and in love with dollmaking!

Describe your creative process - do you make detailed plans before you create the doll? What do you use for inspiration - antique photos, your own sketches, etc? Does the doll end up looking exactly as you planned or does it change and develop during the process?

YES! I am so forgetful lately that when I think of things for my dolls I always write them straight down in my sketch book! When ideas come to mind, I draw the doll,what I want the clothing to look like,I draw any accessories or extras as well~I make little notes all around the doll, because if I don't, it's amazing the little details that I forget!

Inspiration comes from my favorite magazines, antique doll books and vintage Halloween images especially. I love looking at old pictures the best,and making something new with my own style from them!

Oh goodness, the doll almost always changes! I just said something about this the other day! It's amazing how once a doll starts coming to life, it starts telling you what it wants, and how it can turn out so different than planned, but in a good way.You have to just go with it! If you fight it, the doll will give you fits, and become very uncooperative!

What is your favorite doll that you've made and why is it your favorite? (picture please)

I have two, I can't pick! One is a tiny Izannah Walker style doll in a shadow box that I regretted selling ALL the time. She's my favorite because she just gives me that really good dollie feeling when I look at her, I can't explain it.

It's funny how I'd think about that simple little dollie all the time and think "that's the only doll I've sold that I'd really like to have back". Low and behold one day you emailed me Dixie, asking if I'd seen where the buyer was putting her back up for sale over a year later, and I got her back! If it hadn't been for you telling me, I honestly would have never known she was back up for sale!

The other is a very involved piece of a witch taking Santa trick~or~treating on the back of a crow! It's also a favorite because I'm very proud of the time and effort that went into the piece.

How has your work changed since you began doll making? How do you see it changing in the future?



Oh my goodness, my work has changed so much! As I wrote earlier, my work started out heavily inspired by antique dolls and vintage Halloween. I worked strictly in papier mache. Then,as I started selling online, after a while I gravitated towards Primitives, because my work just wasn't selling very well, and I'm impatient, and Primitives semed to be what everyone was buying, so I decided to give them a try. At the time they sold better and got more attention the dolls that I loved making, so for a time I changed my style and just created what I thought would sell the best, because of the need for my dolls to help contribute financially to my family. I never was truly happy with my work though, and I was always thinking about how badly I wanted to create in my own personal style, and finally, the first of this year, a kind of resolution I suppose, was to go back to my love of sculpting, and begin refining my own signature style, which is where I'm at now.

I definitely see my working changing in the future, hopefully evolving into the work that when people see it, they know that it's my work.

Where do you create your dolls?

At the moment, I create my dolls from my large farm table that my husband made from old barn wood that he planed down that's at least 150 years old.

I have a large set-up of my supplies and sewing machine in our bedroom. My goal is to turn our outbuilding that he also made from old barnwood, into my studio.

Were you a doll person as a child? Do you remember making any dolls as a child? What was your favorite doll as a child?

YES! I was definitely a doll person as a child! One of the major contributers to my love of dolls,all things miniature and old & little curiosities was definitely my Great~Grandfather.

I am so blessed to have had him in my life. He was a dollhouse maker, and he made them fully furnished! He made every little thing you could think of to go in them. He stayed in his workshop constantly making tiny piano's,grandfather clocks, picture frames, tables,chairs - you name it! He had little display cabinets filled to the brim with arrowheads, butterflies, Luna Moths, fossils, crystals, civil war relics - you name it! What Heaven it was!

My name came from there, too. I spent alot of time at their house, especially in the summer, and you'd always hear my Great~Grandmother scoffing "Fiddlestix!", so when I needed to decide on a name for my business, I guess it was only natural that something that reminded me of that time in my life would be it!

I don't really remember making any dolls as a child, but I had (once again)two definite favorites - my little Joan Walsh Anglund dolls that my mom would let me pick out from time to time from the Hallmark storel Oh, what excitement!!! And my Xavier Roberts adoption doll - one of the real one's from back when he first started. I got to visit Babyland General, where he set up a whole dollie wonderland with his dolls. You talk about Heaven for a little girl! It was amazing walking through that little house!

What were your play interests as a child?

Dolls, books and my dollhouse made by my Great~Grandfather were my main interests as a child.

If you own any antique dolls, what drew you to purchase those particular dolls?

I have a decent collection of antique dolls.The old papier~mache's are my favorite. I can't reall tell you what draws me to them, other than my heart absolutely sings when I look at them!

Is there anything you'd like to share about your making antique inspired dolls that we haven't covered?

If you love making antique dolls,buying books and surfing the web and studying pictures is one of the best things you can do for inspiration and teaching.

What keeps you engaged in the doll creating process?

What keeps me engaged is just my absolute love for what I do. I think I'd be lost without all my art supplies and fabrics! Whenever I find that I'm a little mentally burnt out with dollmaking, I just take a week off, and I usually can't wait to get back!

Who are your favorite doll makers (living or not)?

I adore Izannah Walker, largely because I feel she was not only a dollmaker, but a pioneer for women's rights and independence as well. She was an amazing woman!

Favorite quote or quotes?

My favorite quote at the moment is....

"Have I gone Mad?" asks the Hatter.

"I'm afraid so, entirely bonkers .But let me tell you a secret, all the best people are," said Alice.

My sentiments exactly, Alice!

What is your favorite website to visit for inspiration?

My has been The Carmel Doll Shop, for years!

Greg Broome, Mandy's husband, carves wonderful wooden dolls which Mandy dresses. Be sure to visit Mandy's blog, as well as the The Dollmakers Workshop, where Mandy and Greg sell their creations.