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Dolls ARE Art!

Dolls are seldom seen as art by the general public and the larger art community. It’s an interesting phenomenon to me. Well-executed dolls require mastery of far more artistic skills than required of, say, a painter—designing, painting, sculpting, wig-making, costuming and engineering, numbering among them. Yet, dolls are often viewed as eccentric, inferior and sentimental, and relegated to some non-lofty, non-art category.

But clearly anyone who doesn’t view dolls as art hasn’t seen an Iacono, Ortiz, Johnston, Dennis, Günzel , Daanen or Dye, for instance (just to name a few!)—all inarguably top-of-the-line artists who create masterpieces.

And manufacturers like Tonner Doll Co., Integrity Toys, Goodreau Doll and Kish & Co.—well, their glorious vinyl and resin renderings began their existence as original art, much like the reproduced prints that hang above most folks’ couches and no one hesitates to classify as “art”—however loosely used.

It’s been with some frustration that I’ve witnessed the extremely niche and segmented nature of the doll industry. Why don’t art dolls have a significant presence at arts and crafts fairs? Why does medium play such a big role in determining whether a piece is a “sculpture” or “doll” and thereby assigning its audience and relevance in the art world?

At one point, I became aware of a high-end New York City gallery exhibiting a doll artist’s work. I wanted to cover the exhibit in DOLLS magazine. The gallery owner reacted with disdain: He made it clear DOLLS magazine was no place to showcase his artist’s work—it was “art” not “dolls” he informed me.  Ironic, considering the artist had made her debut in DOLLS magazine years prior.

And it’s been one of many cases I’ve seen indicating a similar mentality during my tenure with DOLLS magazine. I feel it’s unfortunate because dolls don’t get the credit they deserve, and the industry is thereby stunted and unable to bloom to its fullest potential.

The issue niggles at my brain, and I toy with ideas of how we as an industry, can transcend beyond a niche hobby that appeals to a niche group to something bigger and more widely recognized by the art industry.

Recently, a friend brought Ron Mueck to my attention. Dubbed a “hyperrealist sculptor,” the artist creates works using resin, silicone and mixed media—all materials commonly used by dollmakers. Usually he integrates soft hair and costuming (not sculpted)—both elements of a “doll.”

His works could be called art dolls. Yet they are most definitely not referred to as such. I wonder … how has he transcended the lowly doll world?

I don’t know if the wider world will ever view dolls as art, but I’m going to keep that perspective and promote it, too. In fact, this fall we’re holding a One-of-a-Kind Gallery Opening at the 2010 Doll & Teddy Bear EXPO in Winston-Salem, N.C., Oct. 1 at 5 p.m., where you will see some of the finest art in the industry and meet the artists, as well. Call (715) 445-5000, ext. 137, for tickets ($25).

So far the following artists have agreed to exhibit and more announcements to come!

-Gregg Ortiz
-Kimberly Lasher
-Paulette Goodreau
-Mark Dennis
-Stephanie Blythe
-Roxanna Maria
-Lorella Falconi
-Jack Johnston
-Elizabeth Dye

Meanwhile, let’s spread the word: Dolls are art!

Photo Caption

I look at this OOAK polymer clay piece, The Offfering, by Marilyn Radzat and wonder how it could ever not be considered art.

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Dear polymer clay artists for almost thirty year's I'm working with this
fantastic medium making jewerly little figurineo, veneers such as vases and other containers , and it;s difficult to describe the attitude of peaple when observing these objects , especially here in Greece where polymer clay was almost unknown. I came back from America in 2001 after my adventure with breast cancer and then I introduced polymer clay in Rhodes Island where I live, I strungle since then to establish a guild I have taught 6 years in a private school and yet everybody sees my jewels with contempt May God help!!
Helen Lemonis , August 01, 2010 | url
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Twenty years ago I was a guest curator for the state of CA with a doll show "CA Doll Artists Making History". The title came about when the local art musuem passed on the concept of dolls as art and the history musuem curator jumped at the show.
I am finally seeing my passion come thru with a gallery and web site devoted to toys that are art and art that are toys in CA. I'm so happy to see you give these wonderful artists their due and hope to see more similar shows. Thank you, Terri Rehg
The Art Of Toys
Terri Rehg , June 05, 2010 | url
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Thanks, Carie! Your article says it all.....and it has been a heated discussion for as long as I've been creating these pieces, which is around 35 years.
I almost cringe when someone asks me what kind of art I create. I flatly don't know what to say, so most often, I'll pull out my business card that has a photo on it. Marilyn Radzat smilies/smiley.gif
Marilyn Radzat , June 03, 2010 | url
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Thank you so much for your precise and on-target article expressing what I've felt for so many years! We need more people like you to spread the word.
Linda Mountain , June 03, 2010

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