|Living the Life of Riley|
Anyone who thinks bigger is better obviously is not familiar with the work of Helen Kish. The doll artist, owner of Kish & Company, is well known for her richly detailed one-of-a-kind pieces, limited editions, and dolls she’s designed for companies like Dakin and Pleasant Company. Lately, though, she’s been reaping enormous rewards from downsizing, both in art and life.
Whereas artists often are inspired by adventure and exploration, for Helen, all it took was a return to her roots. A native Denver girl, she launched her doll career and raised her family in the suburbs. However, in 2003 Helen and her husband, Tamas, who is Kish & Company’s Chief Financial Officer and photographer, returned to the city, living and working in a historic building. Serendipitously, their new home also provided the perfect birthplace for her new doll Riley, “the quintessential 21st century urban toddler.”
The doll stood out from all the other sample bodies and heads filling a cabinet of clay models, “waiting patiently,” as Helen puts it, “for me to choose her.” She is a composite of the beautiful features of all the little children her creator has known over three decades of sculpting. Riley has a story, too: at three years old, she’s already got an Internet buddy named Anjali in India, and attends L’Ecole Gaia, a preschool that encourages her wide-eyed curiosity. Riley’s always happy, though, just to play and romp with her best friend, a beagle named Jingles. In fact, Katherine Atkins, an illustrator and artist, has collaborated with author Margaret Burk on a miniscule Riley book (The Perfect Puppy), which is going to be self-published as part of the limited-edition gift set Riley & the Perfect Puppy.
Riley holds a special appeal for many doll lovers. “Riley is vinyl and therefore very ‘play-able,’” comments Paula Reding, owner of the Denver Doll Emporium in Denver. “Riley is the little girl in all of us.” Her diminutive height only adds to her charm, notes Paula: “Riley is the perfect size. Let’s face it–many of us are just plain running out of room to display our massive doll collections! A small doll will fit in anywhere.”
Pint-sized Riley, barely clearing eight inches, has been a tremendous hit with collectors and retailers alike. Helen believes that “there is something completely disarming about a little doll; I call it the Ahhhhhh! factor.” The doll premiered at the 2003 UFDC National Convention but was exclusive to the Kish Collectors’ Society, managed by Helen’s daughter, Annalise.
Demand was so strong for this tiny treasure, with her adorable outfit sets and modest pricing, that earlier this year Kish & Company made Riley available to the general public. According to Helen, “Riley’s small stature contrasts dramatically with the titanic impact she has had on us.”
Janice Toser, a collector based in Norristown, Pennsylvania, notes that some Riley fans have even designed clothing lines for her, written stories featuring her and devoted websites to the doll. “She is the essence of a Helen Kish doll,” Janice remarks. “Collectors now realize that one Riley is just not enough, and her popularity is exploding.”
Indeed, the Riley juggernaut is just getting started. Kish & Company selected this year’s Doll & Teddy Bear Expo for the debut of the toddler’s newest neighbor, Tulah. Helen describes this companion as “a red-headed, freckled spitfire who wastes no time in making Riley’s acquaintance and declaring Riley her new ‘bestest’ friend.” The contrast between the introspective Riley and her “exuberant” new pal should provide for plenty of interesting fun, according to the artist. “They will have many adventures together and naturally, will share each other’s clothes,” says Helen.
The new addition is sure to be embraced by collectors like Marianne McGarrity, of Metuchen, New Jersey, who owns 38 (and counting!) Kish & Company dolls. She thinks Riley “looks like a real little girl” and that her size makes her a terrific doll to set up with props and accessories. “People have created entire ‘worlds’ for their Rileys,” observes Marianne. “They have houses, pets, toys, furniture, families, vehicles, etc!” She herself is not immune to indulging in the life of Riley, having taken the doll on a trip to Italy last year. “I’d never taken a travel doll along with me as many collectors do,” Marianne admits, “but Riley was perfect for this…small, unbreakable and with a great wardrobe! She caused quite the sensation wherever she went.”
“There are no words to describe how wonderful it is that Riley has inspired so many other people’s creativity,” Helen notes. “Grown-up people are playing and having FUN with Riley!” She mentions one woman who snapped out of a collecting dry spell as soon as she laid eyes on the tiny doll. “I am so thrilled and touched by the response to Riley,” says Helen, who hopes Tulah becomes just as beloved.
Not that there’s not plenty of affection going around at Kish & Company already. Everyone’s crazy about Annalise’s beagle Carlo (the inspiration for Riley’s dog), and Katherine Atkins, the co-collaborator on The Perfect Puppy, just happens to be dating Helen’s son. “When people you love, love what you do and are there to help make it all happen, you are well and truly blessed,” Helen says.
Another newcomer to the vast array of dolls is Bitty Bethany, an 11-inch version of the artist’s Bethany series, which collectors treasured despite production problems. Helen explains that Bitty Bethany “never would have been realized without the insistence of Robert Tonner that I give a new vendor a chance to make my dolls. Bitty Bethany was the first of a new wave of affordably priced LadyKish Whimisies dolls.”
Janice has nothing but praise for the little charmer, “which is beautifully sculptured with details down to her fingers. Bitty Bethany’s signature Kish face with painted eyes and Kish lips is 11 inches of sass. Every time I see this doll in new clothes, or different colored or styled hair, she looks like a different doll–now that takes talent!”
“Bitty Bethany is another Kish prize!” agrees Paula. “Again, a wonderful petite size, ‘hands-on’ vinyl construction (as opposed to ‘sit on the shelf’ porcelain) and a beautiful Kish face. I see Bitty Bethany as an older sister to Riley. They both work very well together.”
In addition to Riley and Bitty Bethany, both members of the LadyKish Whimsies collection, Helen is still producing the hand-painted ladies of her Signature Editions line, which features very limited editions of dolls hand-finished by the artist. And she is also keeping herself busy with two fashion dolls, Electra and Rio, who represent “Facets of the Eternal Feminine” and are presented in basic costumes and as the Spirit of the Four Seasons.
“As for 2005, exciting things are in store,” promises Helen. Collectors who can’t get enough of little Riley and her friends may have lots to look forward to. “New families are always moving into the neighborhood!”
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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