|R. John Wright, The Art of Toys|
The authorized history of R. John Wright Dolls, this new book is the definitive full-color reference to the works produced by the company. Rooted in the tradition of early toy makers such as Steiff, Lenci and Käthe Kruse, R. John Wright Dolls’ playful and exquisitely crafted figures are recognized throughout the world for their unprecedented level of workmanship and technical sophistication. Krystyna Poray Goddu, noted doll expert and founding editor of DOLLS, has written a dual biography of John and Susan Wright, as well as a collection of critical essays that discuss the development and importance of significant creations, and place them in the context of toy history.
The following is an excerpt from Part I: The R. John Wright Story, Chapter 2: The Growth of a Company:
During the early 1980s, the Wrights made another major development in their work: They turned their focus from adult characters to children. In 1980 John began to sculpt the first child’s head. His vision had been forming for years, from the first sight of the Steiff schoolchildren in The Doll. Inspired not only by Steiff, but by the sturdy, playful forms of Lenci, Kruse and the wooden Shoenhut dolls of the early twentieth century, and captivated by his own young Lillian, he endeavored to meld these influences into his own distinct creation.
As he worked in this new direction, the young company’s work continued to expand. In the fall of 1981, just before the birth of their second child, Arthur, the Wrights bought their first home, in Cambridge, New York, just over the Vermont border and on Susan’s regular path to The Toy Works. The house became home to the Wrights and to R. John Wright Dolls. Workers arrived daily to do handwork on the dolls–sewing on wigs or closing up holes, or to take fabric away and sew the clothes at their own homes.
The birth of Arthur, in January 1982, came immediately after the introduction of the first eight molded-felt children. This change in subject matter created an explosive level of interest in their work. “We showed the prototypes of the children dolls at a UFDC Regional Convention in Bedford, New Hampshire, in 1981. And we were mobbed!” Susan relates. Responding to the evocation of early dollmakers implicit in the Wrights’ children, antique collectors found themselves competing for purchase of these contemporary pieces. Massachusetts collector Roberta Roberts, who had already bought some Character Dolls from The Enchanted Dollhouse, was among them. “I collected the French and German characters as well as Käthe Kruse and Lenci, but when I saw John and Susan’s children, I had to have them all! There is just something about cloth dolls–they are softer, more hand-molded, than the porcelain ones.” Luckily for Roberts, there were antiques in her collection that the Wrights coveted, and over the years that followed many happy exchanges were made. A firm friendship was forged as well; Roberts and her husband eventually became honorary grandparents to the Wright children. “We formed a bond right away,” she reminisces. Today her collection of R. John Wright Dolls numbers close to one hundred pieces, and continues to grow.
John and Susan continued briefly to produce the Character Dolls, as well, but the overwhelming response to the children made it clear that their entire focus and production needed to shift to children. Specialty doll shops were springing up in response to an increased interest in dolls of higher quality and dolls made by artists. Toy shops were beginning to establish special doll departments. The owners were learning of R. John Wright Dolls from UFDC and NIADA members and orders were coming in. These far-sighted people included Danny Shapiro of The Toy Shoppe in Richmond, Virginia, Bea Skydell of Bea Skydell’s Dolls & Toys in Middlesex, New Jersey, Lily Bergh of Little Switzerland in Huntington, New York, and Isobel Weill of Best of Everything in Brooklyn, New York. Shapiro remembers first seeing the Character dolls in an Enchanted Dollhouse catalog in 1979, and being “taken with the absolute charm of the work, combined with the very fine craftsmanship.” He called them and immediately became a customer.
Jean Schramm at The Enchanted Dollhouse, always a pioneer, now commissioned John and Susan to create a child doll exclusively for her shop. They created Captain Corey, a red-headed boy in a sailor outfit, holding a toy boat, in an edition of only fifty pieces. Captain Corey was the first in what would become a tradition for the Wrights–the shop exclusive–and very quickly, for many other dollmakers as well.
The Toy Shoppe’s Danny Shapiro, who had grown up in the toy business, was next to commission an exclusive. With his discerning eye and deep appreciation for fine old toys, he was one of the earliest retailers to begin seeking out and highlighting the work of artists. “Since we opened our shop in 1975, we were looking for dolls that went beyond the standards,” he says. His idea for the Wrights came from one of his favorite books: The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupéry. “The Little Prince has always been a significant book for me,” he explains. “Everything in it is told from a child’s single-focus view of the world, and yet it is terribly adult because it is about mortality. I thought the book and the Wrights’ work would be a perfect match. In their dolls, John and Susan marry that same simple childlike clarity with a complexity of craftsmanship that only a sophisticated artist can achieve.” He realized that nobody had ever created a doll of the beloved title character.
John and Susan, each formed by a lifelong love of books–and now, with their own small children, holding an enhanced experience of children’s books–responded enthusiastically to this challenge.
“I knew this would be a very important doll to many people,” John explains, “since Saint-Exupéry’s fable is dearly loved for its message of gentle optimism and goodwill.” He and Susan felt they would be breaking new ground in interpreting this character. “The challenge was in keeping the doll simple enough that the interpretation would not intrude on the various perceptions held by readers of the book who, like myself, had only the sketchy and whimsical illustrations to refer to.” In 1983 they produced an edition of 250 pieces of The Little Prince exclusively for The Toy Shoppe. Today, The Little Prince, along with Captain Corey, are the most avidly sought-after dolls created by R. John Wright Dolls.
Thoroughly absorbed by their growing doll business, John and Susan realized they still had a piece of unfinished personal business to tend to. In 1983 they took a moment out of their busy professional life to hold a formal marriage ceremony at a nearby Episcopal church. Three-year-old Lillian was flower girl and one-year-old Arthur was ring bearer. A gala reception at their home followed, complete with family friends and a local quartet playing traditional Scottish and English aires and reels.
Having conquered the crafts world, UFDC and NIADA, and now in demand by the growing number of doll retailers, the Wrights knew they had to cement their position as an established doll company at the ultimate showplace: the American International Toy Fair in New York City. Since 1903, the annual Toy Fair had been the major event of the toy industry, the place where all the important toy companies gathered to display new introductions and take orders from the toy retailers, for whom it was the buying event of the year. In 1983, R. John Wright Dolls took their first booth at Toy Fair, establishing themselves as major players in the doll world.
To order the book, priced at $45 or $125 (for a deluxe signed and numbered limited edition of 500), contact Reverie Publishing at 888-721-4999.
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