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An American Original

In the 26 years she’s spent in the doll industry, Virginia Turner has just about seen it all. “When I first got into it, there were—at most—maybe 20 booths at Toy Fair,” she recounts. “A few years ago, we counted 370-some-odd doll artists!” While the field of people making and selling dolls has grown more crowded, Turner Dolls always strives to stand out. That’s one of many reasons why DOLLS magazine—itself celebrating a quarter century this year—is proud to honor Virginia Turner with the Lifetime Achievement Award. At the 2007 Doll & Teddy Bear Expo in Washington, D.C., in August, Jones Publishing founder Joe Jones will present her with the award and hearty congratulations for so many wonderful years of delighting doll lovers. “I feel humbled, surprised and appreciated,” Virginia says.

Joining “Allisandra,” “Penny,” 28 inches, is a new size vinyl sculpt for Turner Dolls. Her silk dress is copper and gold, trimmed with lime green, and she wears black patent-leather shoes. “Penny”—short for Penelope—has auburn human hair and brown eyes. In an edition of 75, she is priced at $460.Truly Homegrown Dolls unlike many of today’s doll artists, Virginia Turner wasn’t particularly fascinated by dolls as a girl. She was born in 1936 and her childhood coincided with World War II, when nearly everything was sacrificed for the war effort. “The only doll I remember getting, her composition was cracked,” Virginia re­calls. Plus she had her hands full helping to take care of four brothers!

Virginia’s parents were both artists, and she grew up with a love of art. When her daughters Julie, Susan and Teri were small, Virginia made clothes for their dolls. So she was well prepared for her accidental entry into the doll world. In 1981, Virginia was working in a bank, her husband, Boyce, managed a porch swing factory and did woodworking, and Boyce’s sister Judy Turner was designing dolls. She needed extra help filling an order, so Virginia and Boyce started making porcelain in their North Vernon, Ind., basement. The trio soon formed Turner Dolls, selling Originals by Judy and a line of reproductions called Virginia’s Very Own.

The company grew and grew—literally. In 1986, the Turners inherited a 40-acre farm in Heltonville, Ind., and converted it into doll central. Boyce “made a nice studio” out of the farm’s smokehouse, Virginia explains, and other structures were built to house manufacturing facilities, a fabric and photography studio, and a doll shop. Within a few years, Judy opened a separate doll business. Meanwhile, Virginia had her hands full with her own creations.

She sculpted her first original porcelain doll, “Jeannie,” in 1989. The edition of 500 “sold out as fast as we could make them!” Virginia says. A few years later, she released her first foray into vinyl, “Kitty Kay,” another hit. That success continues, with Turner Dolls producing thousands of American-made dolls every year, to the smiles of collectors everywhere.

A Style of Her OwnTake one look at Virginia’s wide-eyed infants or giggling toddlers and you too will have a hard time suppressing a grin. What’s her secret? “I’ve always been a person who likes realism, such as that of Norman Rockwell,” Virginia reveals. She strives to capture authentic ex­pressions and realistic de­tails. Fifteen years ago Virginia even spent two weeks in France studying with a master sculptor to improve her ability to create lifelike dolls.
Another hallmark of Turner Dolls is the size of its dolls. These babies and toddlers are usually close to the height they would be in real life, and a new line of little girls stands 28 inches tall. As the artist jokes, “The problem with being a fan of Virginia Turner is you need a big house!”

Turner Dolls is also famous for offering some of the last mass-produced dolls made in the United States. From the original sculpts to the vinyl and porcelain production to the costumes (all designed by Virginia), everything is done by the Turners and their employees on the farm-turned-factory. Lately, to give the dolls even more authenticity and value, Virginia has taken to hand-painting the eyebrows. So now no two dolls are exactly alike!

Fans and FriendsThis devotion to homemade quality has won Turner Dolls widespread ac­claim. “Customers like the fact they’re made in the U.S.A., and the detail work,” says Brenda Grooms, manager of Christmas & Dolls in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Everything is exquisite, from the trim or edging on a dress to the shape of a doll’s lips, showing just how much time and effort the dollmakers put into getting everything just right. That all stems from Virginia, of course. “She’s a perfectionist!” Grooms notes.

: Giddyup, pardner! “Calamity”—all 26 inches of her—is riding high on her favorite fuzzy steed. She’s decked out with a cowboy hat and boots, plus a denim dress trimmed with bandanna-print triangles on the skirt, sleeves and bodice; each triangle sports a silver concho. From this edition of 100, “Calamity” can be purchased solo for $290 or for $355 with her horse.“Virginia’s dolls are always of the finest of quality,” says Debbie Bibb of The Doll House in Edmond, Okla. “The clothing is always so nice and detailed.” In addition to her personal stash, Bibb adds that her daughter owns 37 Virginia Turner dolls!

Fellow doll artist Robert Tonner of Tonner Doll Co. is also on the bandwagon, marveling at Virginia’s skill and determination. “If something needs to be done, she will figure out how to do it,” he comments. Though Tonner is an industry leader for his own work, he professes genuine enthusiasm for Turner Dolls and Virginia herself: “She captures an innocence that is truly delightful. The dolls have an open, warm attitude that reflects what’s best of the Midwest.”

That friendly, down-home mid-western spirit is on display whenever Virginia attends a doll show or signing, according to Grooms. “It’s like meeting a family member you’ve not seen in awhile,” she explains. “She’s a wonderful person.” As proof, Grooms recalls how Virginia brought an order of dolls with her to a signing, eliminating the shipping charges. “I even have a doll named Brenda that Virginia named after me,” Grooms says; Virginia gave her the first doll in the series.

This receptiveness to her collectors—dealers and fans alike—never wavers. “Virginia always makes sure every customer is pleased with his or her doll,” explains Bibb, whose doll shop the Turners visit year in and year out. “She is always happy to visit with every collector, sign dolls, take pictures, etc., until the day is gone.”Tonner recognizes the generosity and kindness. “I liked Virginia from the moment I met her,” he says. “She is warm and engaging and right away I felt a connection with her. It’s meeting people like Virginia and Boyce that makes me glad I’m in the doll business.”

A Turning PointAs for Virginia, the feeling is mutual. “I’ve never considered other doll artists and companies as competition,” she comments. “I’ve never cared about winning awards.”
Though she was elated to earn the Lifetime Achievement Award, the moment was bittersweet, as her dog Honey wasn’t there to see it. “She was like a mascot,” Virginia says. The Australian shepherd, who was a faithful companion during RV trips to doll shows and signings and appeared in Turner Dolls catalogs, passed away earlier this year at the age of 17. The Turners created a lovely memorial for Honey and miss her dearly. Still, the farm grew a little too quiet, so now they have a new puppy, Mindy, who’s “just precious.”

Virginia also has a new knee after surgery to repair it this year. At 71, she’s starting to take things more slowly. The rising cost of making all their dolls locally also factors into the Turners’ decision to scale back production. Don’t tell that to Turner Dolls fans, who can’t imagine a world without more of these pretty dolls. Count Robert Tonner among them. “The industry needs her work,” he muses, “a great doll, beautifully sculpted and designed.” There’s no need to panic, though. “I can’t totally quit!” Virginia admits. In lieu of large editions, she is planning to “take my time and do what I like to do,” concentrating more on small editions and one-of-a-kind dolls. And she’s grateful for the support of fans and friends alike who have sustained her this far: “I couldn’t have asked for a more exciting and re­warding life than to be a doll artist.”


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2013 DOLLS Awards of Excellence

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.

 

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DOLLS publisher Carie Ferg wins special Colliii Award

Iola, Wis. – Jan. 9, 2013DOLLS 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.
ProSculpt 2012 winners announced

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:

 

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A Chair for Your 16-Inch Sweetheart

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.

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Rockin’ Out at Rockefeller Center: An outdoor winter event showcases model-worthy Manhattanites.

{besps}ravena{/besps}

{besps_c}0|1.jpg|Available on December 6, “Ravena, Winter Chic” is an exclusive BJD from Ruby Red Galleria and DOLLS magazine. It can only be purchased through DOLLS.|{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|2.jpg|At a recent European fashion show, these lovely models showcased what Australian fashion designers are cooking up for winterwear. “Ravena” could have joined that lineup!|{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|3.jpg|Lauren Graham looks stylish and seasonal in her winter attire. Just because snow might be flurrying and blowing, no reason to let a fashion sense melt away!|{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|4.jpg|Singer/actress Brooke White was layered and lovely at the Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting.|{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|5.jpg|When some of us layer, we come dangerously close to the Michelin Tire Man vibe. Sometimes too much bundling means near bursting!|{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|6.jpg|Cee Lo Green never worries about the curse of the Michelin Tire Man. The portly singer is proud to be a big man, and rejoices with his winter-clad Muppet pals.|{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|7.jpg|The 80th Anniversary of the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting was a special one, after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. The 80-foot Norway spruce hailed from New Jersey! 45,000 LED lights caused it to glow so brightly!|{/besps_c}
{besps_c}0|8.jpg|Even the Christmas trees in New York are fabulously dressed from head to toe! The Swarovski star that tops the Rockefeller Center tree is brilliant.|{/besps_c}I just learned about a new BJD debuting on December 6—it's a Ruby Red Galleria exclusive for DOLLS. The creation is so spot-on in its costuming and its attitude, I swear that one of the designers must have been tailing me last month.

When my friend Cam phoned me and invited me to the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting, I should have said “no.” Any sane person would have, but sanity and an evening with Cam rarely go hand-in-hand. Instead, I agreed, and we headed out to Midtown Manhattan on one of the most crowded, most frantic nights of the year.

As we attempted to approach the skating rink where the enormous evergreen will reign supreme, I looked at Cam and burst out laughing.

“Isn’t this how ‘The Day of the Locust’ ends?” I shouted to him. (That film from the 1970s is among my and Cam’s favorite flicks. It stars Karen Black and Donald Sutherland, and it concludes with a horrible, free-for-all deadly crowd stampede.)

“Don’t be such a Grinch,” he called back. “Or should I say ‘Grinchette’!”

“I’m not sure there is a female Grinch,” I replied. “I know there was a Smurfette, the only blue gal around. But a Grinchette? I have to check my Seuss.”

And so this intellectual discourse continued as we fought our way through the jangling and jostling crowd—and, yes, the mass of people were LITERALLY jangling as they jostled. A huge number of them had on Santa hats with bells affixed or had bells attached to their lapels or collars. They were rude but they were rhythmic!

Since our trekking was so slow, and the other gawkers had gotten their much earlier to stake out their spots, Cam and I didn’t so much watch the tree lighting as watch the other folks’ reactions to all of the events.

A shrill shriek would emerge from the people way ahead of us.

“What is it?” I’d ask.

“Il Vole,” Cam would reply, referencing the teenage opera singers.

A cheer would erupt.

“Who is that?” I questioned.

“Chris Mann, from ‘The Voice.’” Another opera singer, who is marketed as a heartthrob.

Then just a smattering of applause.

“Mayor Bloomberg,” we both declared.

Since we were merely hearing the audio playback of the concert, we gazed at all the young men and women surrounding us.

“I think there is more wool here on Sixth Avenue than in all the sheep farms in Scotland,” Cam proclaimed.

Looking around, I had to agree.

Guys and girls were all decked out in the “official” apparel of the season: woolen flap hats, jauntily tied scarves, and boots. Girls had on legwarmers—“Hello, Flashdancers”—and fingerless gloves. (“What’s the point of that?” Cam groused. “Are we supposed to WANT our fingernails to turn blue?”) We had our very own Joan & Melissa Rivers Red Carpet fashion critique.

There’s a certain hip look that New Yorkers achieve—even when they are multilayering, they still come across as thin, chic, and hip. When I add scarves and sweaters and hats to my wardrobe, I look bundled up and ready to explode: envision the Michelin Tire Man, but not as perky.

When these twenty-somethings put on the extra bits of fabric, they look like they are taking a break en masse from shooting the Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. It really is quite amazing.

“I wish we could bottle their youth,” Cam lamented, looking at all the rosy-cheeked kids, teens, and college students who were scrambling about.

“Yep,” I agreed, “but can you imagine how much it would cost? And just how big would that bottle have to be! Better just to dream about it.”

And, wouldn’t you know it, just in time for Christmas . . . a doll that perfectly embodies that free-spirited New York City style has loped onto the scene.

The ball-jointed doll, which is a collaboration between DOLLS magazine and Ruby Red Galleria, is fittingly named “Ravena, Winter Chic.” Limited to 100 pieces, she’ll sell for 149.95. And, like all the other fashionable femmes who congregate in Manhattan, she weighs only 2 pounds, 6.9 ounces! The “Ravena” doll is bundled up and beautiful. Quite a feat, indeed!

Like her advertising copy says: A New York City native, the harsh NYC winters don’t stop “Ravena, Winter Chic,” a DOLLS dressed doll exclusive by Ruby Red Galleria, from exploring the city she loves. From uptown boutiques and coffee shops to downtown restaurants and theater, “Ravena, Winter Chic” bundles into her purple tights and faux-fur boots, corduroy short pants, pansy T-shirt, black motorcycle-style jacket and cozy knit hat to hit the streets in style. Even when the elements are unforgiving, “Ravena” survives and thrives in the city that never sleeps! The fully dressed 12-inch ball-jointed vinyl doll features removable wig and eyes, plus underwear and a sweet “love” tank top.

Ruby Red Galleria always has a way with its wardrobe, and “Ravena, Winter Chic” is no exception. I am sure Cam will be ordering one online. He’s probably circled December 6 on his calendar. After all, if he was willing to chew “instant youth” vitamins or spray on “adolescent forever” cologne, can you imagine how happy he’ll be to have a chic New Yorker to call his own?

“Exercising and eating well . . . who could be bothered,” Cam knowingly observes. “I’d rather play my way to younger days.”

And, yes, it can’t be denied. Cam has the healthiest inner-child in town!

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Pullip and Dal Doll Lovers Event
Fans of Pullip and Dal pose with their dolls at PUDDLE 2011. Photo by Mike Hurlock

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.

5_costume_contest_newEvery 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 Easterly

For information on PUDDLE 2012, visit www.puddlestyle.com.
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R. John Wright Convention

Attendees at the third annual R. John Wright Convention enjoyed the festivities of several major holidays coupled with outstanding dolls,R. John Wright introduces the “Wicked Witch of the West,” the newest piece in the Wizard of Oz series, at the Halloween Masquerade Luncheon. 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.

“Rose Fairy,” a new addition to the Flower Fairy series, was available for purchase at the Valentine’s Day High Tea.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 byElaine Romberg won the Best of Show ribbon in the Competitive Exhibit for her exceptional Lenci Leprechaun Gnome type character doll. 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 Burns
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