The Xenis family tree is ripe with creativity, self-expression, and dedication to hard work and big dreams. This is readily apparent in their family business, The Xenis Collection. A purveyor of fine wooden dolls, the firm is based out of Aldergrove, a small town located outside of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Marlene, approaching 50 years old at the time, founded the firm in 1994. Not one to blankly stare down a midlife crisis, the enterprising artist took her ability to concoct clever and quirky dolls and parlayed it into a fulltime pursuit. Rather than continuing her part-time craft-show success, she carved out a burgeoning name for herself as a maker of internationally sought-after wooden novelties.
“In 1994, I decided to expand because if we wanted to make a business from this effort, we had to produce a product that was worthy of upscale gift shops. I began to put Swiss music boxes in the dolls, and my daughter, Tania, and I decided that it would be a good idea to use wood heads, as the bodies were wood. Also, we live in an area that has an abundance of maple wood. Being very artistic, Tania took the initiative to paint the heads. These were a great success, and we produced a series of ‘Musical Jesters.’ We sold them through a distributor in the United States, who also put us in touch with a distributor in Australia and the United Kingdom.”
Evolving from a local phenomenon to a worldwide business was a result of Marlene’s faith in herself and in her daughter Tania’s talents. Not a duo to rest on their laurels, the pair next courted a connection with a major music-box retailer. “We obtained a contract with San Francisco Music Box, with some 100 shops across the States. This kept us very busy. However, we could see that these particular musical pieces would eventually slow down, so I had the idea of experimenting with making wood dolls.”
The experiment certainly paid off. “When we started the company,” Tania explains, “we worked out of my mom’s basement. We all had other jobs at the time. My mom was working for the government, and I was doing design work for a furniture manufacturer. My sister Jesse, who wasn’t part of the company yet, soon went off to university to study monkeys. This will be very useful if a primate should wander through the shop.”
Today, the Xenis headquarters is situated in a 2,000-square-foot studio, and mom Marlene lives above it in a homey loft. She feels the arrangement works out “beautifully”; she is able to stay connected and on top of her namesake.
“Our mom is the one who started making crafts, which included a simple jester ‘doll.’ We make slight changes every time we make something new, and eventually we realized that we were making actual, real dolls,” Jesse affirms. “We always have ideas about how our dolls may change, but we aren’t sure if it is what will actually happen. Collectors are the main reason our dolls do grow. Without collectors, we would only be making dolls as a hobby for our friends and family. We enjoy going to doll shows to hear what our collectors have to say. We encourage them to send ideas and suggestions for future dolls!” Currently on the drawing board are plans for a smaller doll, which would still be fully jointed. “We are thinking that we might make her a ‘trunk doll’ with changes of clothes and accessories,” Tania muses. “She would come in her own little traveling case.”
Always willing to strive for a goal, Marlene and her daughters are aware of how far they have come from the early Jester days. “Our first dolls were machined and very crude in the beginning. As we did not know the first thing about carving wood, Tania used round heads, and the features were painted on, which produced very effective results. Tania and artist Ross Adams would paint with extreme detail and achieve the three-dimensional looks we needed,” Marlene says. “We made the Jesters for about four years. In the late 1990s, we introduced a design of tall, slender ‘Diva Dolls.’ We began phasing out the round-headed dolls and replaced them with sculpted ones with more detail. One thing we will never change is our medium—wood.”
Interestingly, wood has become an uncommon material for dolls. Good old Geppetto notwithstanding, most dollmakers do not turn to wood as their personal métier. “This is because of the difficulty in cultivating [and] drying time, for wood must dry for almost a year to be any good for carving. We stand by the western maple, for the appearance gives a natural glow to the skin,” Marlene says.
The Xenis designers have had their fair share of detractors—pessimists who put the knock on wood. “Several people told us that carving maple was impossible, because it is too hard of a wood, yet we persisted. And others told us that a delicate jointing system wouldn’t be possible because there is no flex in wood. Again, we persisted, and we now have beautiful, delicate jointing in our dolls,” Jesse says.
Devotion to a standard of excellence has guided the Xenis team for nearly 15 years. It is a credo that all of the employees adhere to. “There are many long hours of design work, and many long hours of back-and-forth until everyone is happy. There are long hours of carving, sanding, painting and sewing until a doll is finished. You work at locating the perfect accessory, and when you finally discover that you won’t, you make them yourself. It is a love/hate/love relationship,” Tania confides. “You love the ideas you have but hate the tedious process of putting everything together. But then you love it again when it is almost finished, and then you get to sign it and ship it off to a collector who will love it as well.”
An appreciation for one another and a respect for their clientele keep this family business rooted in reality and reaching for the sky. “I cherish the fact that with my dolls, I can create an illusion and tell a story that will last forever,” Marlene Xenis says.
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The winners of the 2013 Industry’s Choice DOLLS Awards of Excellence (DAEs) were announced April 12 at the Debut of Dolls Banquet held at IDEX in Orlando, Fla. Each entry in this year’s competition was evaluated by our panel of judges: Doll industry consultant Pat Burns, doll writer and historian Penny Herbst, Simon Farnworth of DollObservers.com, author and DOLLS contributor Stephanie Finnegan,
DOLLS editor-at-large Jill Jackson, and Modern Doll President Patsy Moyer. This year’s Industry’s Choice winners go on to become the nominees for the Public’s Choice awards voted on by DOLLS readers. Look for photos of all the nominees, ballot, and online voting instructions in the July 2013 issue of DOLLS.
Iola, Wis. – Jan. 9, 2013 – DOLLS magazine publisher and former editor Carie Ferg received a special VIP Award for Outstanding Achievement in the 2012 Colliii Awards. The Colliii Awards are the largest online dollmaking competition in the world.
“We wanted to present the 2012 VIP Award to Carie Ferg as a recognition of the dynamism and innovation she has brought to the doll industry over the past few years,” said Colliii Awards Director James Carlsson. “The VIP Award is presented every year to a person or organisation that has made a significant contribution to the doll world. It was Colliii.com’s pleasure to present this to Carie as a token of appreciation for her hard work.”
Past VIP Award winners include DOLLS’ Editor-at-Large Jill Jackson for her work with "Doll Reader," the Biemann family from Schildkröt dolls in Germany, and such atists as Stephanie Sullivan.Registration for the 2013 Colliii Awards will begin in July. For more information about the competition, go to www.colliii.com/en.
The winners of the 2012 ProSculpt Annual Sculpting Contest have been chosen by collectors and artists from around the world. Winners this year are from England, Italy, Japan, South America, and the United States. Photos of all the winners can be viewed at the Johnston Original Art Dolls website. The winners are:
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Haute Doll introduces its new exclusive by Horsman Ltd., the modern-style “Heart Chair” perfect for 16-inch fashion dolls. The design was inspired by Verner Panton’s 1959 full-scale contemporary chair design.
The fourth Pullip and Dal Doll Lovers Event (PUDDLE) drew 60 doll lovers from 10 different states and Canada to the Elk Grove Village Holiday Inn in June. This year’s theme, cranes, was inspired by the sandhill cranes at the group's charity organization, the Willowbrook Wildlife Center. Six custom dolls and other items donated by sponsors like The Sleeping Elf and Denise's Dolls were raffled off at the event, raising $500 for the center.
The weekend started Friday night with dinner at Mitsuwa Japanese Mall in Arlington Heights, followed by a tea party at the hotel. PUDDLE officially kicked off at 9 a.m. Saturday, starting with an organized buy-sell-trade opportunity, and dozens of fans milled around trading and buying doll wigs, eye chips, bodies, clothing, and more.
Every attendee received a door prize, thanks to generous donations from many sponsors. Distribution of the door prizes was followed by a secret gift swap and lunch break. Afterwards, an informal Q&A-format customizing workshop answered questions for many fans new to the hobby, followed by a display of fully customized and modified dolls entered in the customization contest. Winners of an online photo/art contest which was held and judged before the event were announced along with the customization contest winners. The photo and art entries can be seen at www.puddlestyle.com/photoart.html.
Many fans continued the fun over dinner in the hotel restaurant and in the hotel lobby until the wee hours. Krista Farmer, who traveled from Toronto for the event, said “It was a crazy cool day.” Although the event officially ended Saturday night, 11 fans stayed for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Willowbrook Wildlife Center Sunday. — Jane EasterlyFor information on PUDDLE 2012, visit www.puddlestyle.com.read more
Attendees at the third annual R. John Wright Convention enjoyed the festivities of several major holidays coupled with outstanding dolls, all rolled into four fun-filled days! R. John and Susan Wright chose “Celebrations!” as the theme for their 2011 event held at the historic Desmond Hotel in Albany, N.Y., which was co-chaired by Loretta Nardone and Lillian Wright.
The convention opened with St. Patrick’s Day reception Wednesday evening, where everyone laid claim to being a wee bit Irish while enjoying a scrumptious dessert buffet. The sales room opened immediately after this kick-off event, with conventioneers hoping the “luck of the Irish” would help them find that perfect doll or dolls.
Thursday began early with the Easter Morning Breakfast; those attending this ticketed event didn’t have to search for large, beautifully decorated baskets serving as table centerpieces. They were filled with molded felt eggs in pastel colors. At the end of the breakfast, the eggs were distributed and the happy new owners opened them to find “Peep,” a 3-inch yellow mohair chick as their event souvenir. His companion, “Posey,” was available for sale. After breakfast the special and competitive exhibits opened, along with the helper room. This year’s special exhibit, arranged by John and Susan Wright’s daughter Emily, was titled “Happy Holidays” and showcased R. John Wright dolls and animal characters and the traditional holidays that inspired them.
That afternoon, attendees boarded buses for the short trip to Bennington, Vt., for a tour of the R. John Wright facility along with other local activities. The Wrights explained the development of their creations from concept through completion before everyone had the opportunity to visit with their employees as they made various doll parts and accessories and shopped in the R. John Wright store. The day culminated with a Fourth of July BBQ followed by fireworks at dusk.
Workshops by dollmaker Gail Wilson and a program by Alan Pate, a leading American expert on Japanese dolls, were offered on Friday, along with several roundtable discussions on various topics. Attendees dressed up for the frightfully fabulous costume parade leading into the Halloween Masquerade luncheon, with prizes awarded in five categories. After lunch, the newest piece from R. John Wright’s Wizard of Oz collection, “Wicked Witch of the West,” made her debut in front of an enthusiastic audience.
The ticketed Victorian Yuletide Dinner featured traditional table decorations and an enchanting program, “A Victorian Christmas,” presented by Nardone. The event souvenir was the 10-inch “Mary Frances,” the latest addition to the Victorian Children Collection. Available for purchase was her 7-inch little sister, “Baby Grace.”
Saturday morning’s activities included another program by Pate and a workshop conducted by Emily Wright. That afternoon, a Valentine’s Day High Tea charmed conventioneers with fine teas and delicacies. The newest addition to the Flower Fairies series, “Rose Fairy,” was available for purchase. The evening’s closing event was a New Year’s Eve Gala Celebration. This elegant banquet featured another entertaining program produced and presented by Nardone. When the souvenir dolls were distributed, delighted attendees found the adorable 12½-inch “Celebration Scootles” would be going home with them. As an added bonus, her delightful twin brother was available for purchase.As the convention ended, attendees were already making plans for next year’s “Around the World” event, which will be held at the same location June 20-23, 2012 and will celebrate the magic of children around the globe. There will also be an added treat as the first bear event held at an R. John Wright convention will be incorporated into the excursion to the Wrights’ facility in Vermont. For more information, visit www.rjohnwright.com or call (802) 447-7072. — Pat Burnsread more