Forgotten Dolls

an encyclopedia of dolls and doll collecting

Art dolls -- OOAK, limited, and handmade

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art dolls

Art dolls are created by an artist as artwork for display by adults rather than used as a child's toy. They may be created in a variety of media to bring to life an artist's vision -- clay including paperclay and polymer clay, fabric, wood, beads, wax, or natural products such as hair or plant materials. The dolls are as realistic or not as the artist envisions them to be. If more than one type of material is used in a particular doll, the doll is termed a "mixed-media assemblage".

Of particular note are "primitive" dolls created from wood or cloth in a similar (but not identical) style to an antique doll. Primitive dolls are handmade and hand-painted, generally by a particular artist or company. There is variation even among those produced by companies.

Some artists may specialize in creating OOAK (One Of A Kind) art dolls. This means each doll is made by the artist from the start of designing process to completion of the doll to be unique in its features and attributes. Once that particular doll is complete, it will never be recreated in the same form.

Note: OOAK means different things to different artists. Did the artist create the doll entirely from scratch? Were are molds used in the process? Will this piece be reproduced in the future as a limited edition, or even an unlimited edition with slight variants?

Japanese kokeshi dolls

Vintage Japanese wooden kokeshi dolls

Kokeshi are wooden peg-style dolls. They are handmade from cherry wood or dogwood and painted with a simple facial design and a floral design on the body to represent robes. Once painted, they are sealed with a layer of lacquer or wax to protect the designs.

Though the original kokeshi dolls were intended as children's toys, they are a popular collectible item. New kokeshi art dolls are designed and produced for collectors to enjoy.

Kokeshi doll history

This style of doll originated during the Edo period (1600 to 1868) in Northern Japan. The first kokeshi dolls were created as souvenirs for those who visited the hot springs in the region. The design was based on a simple one-piece wooden doll enjoyed by peasant children.

After World War II, the art form blossomed and spread through all Japan. The traditional forms were expanded, and new styles were developed as the kokeshi became increasingly prevalent in popular culture.

Types of traditional kokeshi dolls

Matryoshka -- Russian nesting dolls

matryoshka russian nesting dolls

Matryoshka dolls are sets of hollow dolls typically made of linden wood which have been specially designed with a wood turning tool to nest one inside another. They are cut in half at the waist with the intent to be opened. The word 'matryoshka' derives from the Latin mater, meaning 'mother'.

Modern matryoshka designs can include animals, Soviet leaders, fairy tale figures, and pop culture icons.

History of Russian nesting dolls

The original set of matryoshka art dolls was originally created in Russia in 1890 by Sergei Maliutin and Vasiliy Zvezdochkin, who were inspired by traditional Japanese kokeshi dolls. The outermost figure is usually that of a woman in traditional Russian garb. Each successive doll is smaller than its predecessor. The innermost doll is a baby that cannot be opened. The original matryoshka dolls were presented at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900 and won a medal.

Tip: You can tell you have a full set if you have both the outermost doll, which can be identified by the "lip" around the bottom of the doll, and the baby which cannot be opened.

Types of matryoshka nesting dolls

 
semenov matryoshka russian nesting dolls
  The Semenov matryoshka dolls are made in a traditional style which is painted in aniline dyes. The apron is the focal point: there will be a large asymmetrical flower bouquet featuring a rose and violets. Three colours are used for these dolls: red, yellow, and green (typically a red headscarf with yellow dress and green detailing, or a yellow headscarf with red dress and green detailing). There is a spiral design on the headscarf of the dolls.  
 
sergiev matryoshka russian nesting dolls
  Those matryohska dolls produced in Sergiev-Posad are far more modern in appearance than those elsewhere. Many have detailed face-painting and bodies. The designs are not restricted to the traditional floral apron. It is not unusual to find matryoshka dolls from this region decorated with domed churches, snow scenes, and fairytale paintings.  
 
tver matryoshka russian nesting dolls
  Tver (Kalinin) matryoshka are distinctive in that they are feature a wood-burned design on the raw wood. The darker woodburn tones enhance the detailing of their clothing. The colours used are very bright with non-stylized apron designs, and there is a lot of gold leaf detailing.  
 
viatka matryoshka russian nesting dolls
  The Viatka (Kirov) matryohska dolls have rounded child-like facial features. They are painted in simple bright colours with a stylized floral design on the apron. The designs of this style have clean lines.
      The matryoshka from Polkhovsky Maidan are quite stylized, often having spiral curls for hair. Their outfits tend toward yellow tones with some reds and greens used, and a floral pattern on the apron. These are very traditional matryoshka.

Make your own matryoshka dolls

It's easy to design and paint your own set of matryoshka if you start with a blank set of matryoshka dolls. Once you have the dolls, it's just a matter of painting a design on them. I recommend this book:

Paint Your Own Nesting Dolls Paint Your Own Nesting Dolls by Carmen Barros (Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2010): A guide to designing and painting your own set of matryoshka dolls. Included are patterns for some basic designs, materials list for each project, and detailed how-to instructions. There are twelve patterns, and it would be easy to adjust designs for your own imagined images of the dolls.

Nut head dolls -- an American folk art doll

nut head dolls Foremost among American folk art dolls are the nut head dolls. These consist of a head made from a nut and a cloth-wrapped wire body -- either a full semi-posable body or for girl dolls a wire torso with arms over a conical skirt shape. Common nuts used for these dolls include hickory nuts, pecans, and walnuts. Cherry pits or hazelnuts are often used for smaller dolls. Their clothes sometimes consist of sewn fabric scraps, but many tourist souvenir dolls are dressed in "local materials" such as banana leaves. The character of a particular doll is in many cases determined by the type of nut used.

Nut head dolls range in size from 3 inches tall to 10 inches. They were individually handmade by folk artists from the early 1800s through the 1940s, primarily in Appalachia. Dolls created in the 1920s or later for the tourist trade tend to retain their original tags.

Are nut head dolls rare?

Nut head dolls are fairly common as collectible dolls go, unless you are looking for a specific doll by a specific manufacturer. If you are simply looking for any nut head doll in acceptible to good condition, they can be acquired for $20 to $30 each.

Miss Hickory book

Miss Hickory Perhaps the most famous nut head doll is Miss Hickory, who is the heroine of the 1946 book Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey. This book won the 1947 Newbery Medal of Excellence in American children's literature. It is a delightful if slightly disjointed book about a doll with a hickory nut head and apple wood body. Some of the adventures don't fit the storyline properly, but the surprising ending when spring comes is strangely hopeful.

Note: The first edition of Miss Hickory (hardcover with dust jacket) is illustrated, but no colour plates are included.

How to make a Miss Hickory doll

Miss Hickory dolls are easily to make at home by drilling a hole into the bottom of a nut, and gluing it to a wire body. Wrap the body in thread or cloth, and dress as desired.

If you prefer a fully-wooden articulated body, try to find an artist to carve one for you.

Profiles of my art dolls

 
Anastasia
  Name: Anastasia
Medium: artist-made mixed-media doll
Year: 1989
Made by: Gretchen Lima
Signed: tagged on bottom
Size: 13" tall

Notes: Her hang tag is missing, so I have no idea if she had a "proper" name. She has a lot of jewelry and is holding a crystal ball.

 
 
Aniwata
  Name: Aniwata the Butterfly Woman
Medium: artist-made mixed-media doll
Year: 2007
Made by: Gretchen Lima
Signed: on back
Size: 20" tall

Notes: This is one of the large "wall-hanger" dolls from this artist.

 
 
Annelise
  Name: Annelise
Medium: artist-made mixed-media doll
Year: 1987
Made by: Gretchen Lima
Signed: tagged on bottom
Size: 13" tall

Notes: Her hang tag is missing, so I have no idea if she had a "proper" name. Her basket is full of bread and flour.

 
 
Bena
  Name: Bena the Guardian Spirit
Medium: artist-made mixed-media doll
Year: 1997
Made by: Gretchen Lima
Signed: on back
Size: 12" tall
 
 
Loiyetu
  Name: Loiyetu the Guardian Spirit
Medium: artist-made mixed-media doll
Year: 1996
Made by: Gretchen Lima
Signed: on back
Size: 12" tall
 
 
Magenta
  Name: Magenta the Guardian Spirit
Medium: artist-made mixed-media doll
Year: 1996
Made by: Gretchen Lima
Signed: on back
Size: 12" tall
 
 
Nuna
  Name: Nuna the Guardian Spirit
Medium: artist-made mixed-media doll
Year: 2000
Made by: Gretchen Lima
Signed: on back
Size: 12" tall
 
 
Prudence
  Name: Prudence
Medium: artist-made cloth doll
Year: 2010
Made by: Shari Lutz
Signed: on leg
Size: 10" tall
 
 
Stella
  Name: Stella
Medium: artist-made cloth doll
Year: 2005
Made by: Susan Fosnot
Signed: lithographed on front
Size: 11" tall

Notes: Kansas City UFDC 2005 "A Dream Come True" event doll, limited to 900 pieces. She came with a carry bag.

 
 
Tzotolin
  Name: Tzotolin
Medium: artist-made mixed-media doll
Year: unknown
Made by: M. Huntley
Signed: on hang tag
Size: 7" tall

Notes: Desert Spirit Doll #202. "Tzotolin" is from the Nahuatl word for "long-leaved palm".

 
 
Miss Hickory
  Name: Miss Hickory
Medium: cherry wood head + body
Year: 2017 #42
Made by: Judy Brown
Signed: on back
Size: 6 1/4" tall
 
 
Miss Hickory
  Name: Miss Hickory
Medium: bass wood head + body
Year: 2014
Made by: Natalie Cooper
Signed: on back
Size: 7 1/2" tall
 
 
Miss Hickory
  Name: Miss Hickory
Medium: pecan nut head + articulated basswood body
Year: 2018
Made by: Laurel Parker
Signed: no
Size: 9" tall
 
 
Miss Hickory
  Name: Miss Hickory
Medium: hickory nut head + thread over wire body
Year: 2017
Made by: me
Signed: no
Size: 10" tall
 
 
Miss Hickory
  Name: Little Miss Hickory
Medium: hickory nut head + thread over wire body
Year: unknown
Made by: Just Lisa
Signed: no
Size: 3" tall
 

Further reading

Anatomy of a Doll Anatomy of a Doll by Susanna Oroyan (C&T Publishing, 1997): An artist's guide to designing and assembling a mixed-media art doll. Most of the book consists of instructions for creating different styles of body. An excellent reference for fabric artists.   Batik For Artists and Quilters Batik For Artists and Quilters by Eloise Piper (Hand Books Press, 2001): Although this is primarily a guide for designing batik fabric and creating art with it, it includes suggestions for art dolls which effectively incorporate both commercial and hand-dyed batik fabrics in their designs.
Fantastic Figures Fantastic Figures by Susanna Oroyan (C&T Publishing, 1994): An artist's guide to doll-making in clay-based media. Includes information on each clay type, sculpting and firing, and dressing the completed doll. A bit dated by now since these clays are no longer new, but still an excellent reference.   Designing the Doll Designing the Doll by Susanna Oroyan (C&T Publishing, 1999): An excellent reference for the start to finish process of designing and creating an art doll. Includes preliminary sketching, materials options, jointing, armature, and mold-making.
The Doll by Contemporary Artists The Doll by Contemporary Artists by Krystyna Poray Goddu (Abbeville Press, 1995): An excellent reference for contemporary doll artists with photos of each artist's work.   A Collector's Guide to Nesting Dolls A Collector's Guide to Nesting Dolls: Histories, Identification, Values by Michele Lyons Lefkovitz (Books Americana, 1989): Older book, but still a useful guide to the various styles of matryoshka from each region. Includes both b&w photos and a small section of colour plates. If you collect matryoshka, it's a must-have collector's guide.

These books can be difficult to find since many are out of print. Some great places to buy used books online include:

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