|Fabric of Their Lives|
|Written by Stephanie Finnegan|
|Friday, 01 February 2008 00:00|
The fascinating thing about Brook Burns is how her so-called mundane, steady- paycheck job enhances her imaginative, soul-soaring, part-time vocation. By day, Burns is a mild-mannered residential lending agent, but at night, she allows her penchant for pretending, her bias toward make-believe, to run free. Working with number crunching and mortgage requirements means Burns knows a thing or two about zoning and amortization, prime rates and escrow. When she heads home in the evening, she is the founder of a land steeped in the love of learning, which welcomes all dreamers and where the greatest currencies are individuality and talent. Equity takes on a whole new meaning in her parallel universe.
The Bradenton, Fla., resident has concocted a company and a massive history about a fantasy locale called N.B.Tween, which stands for the “NationalBroSisHood of Tween.” A voracious reader of history who enjoys learning for the sake of learning, Brooks has engineered an entire country that has annually celebrated holidays, a national anthem and an ambassador who issues passports on a regular basis to citizens desiring to travel with those who happen by. “When I explain the background of my dolls to people, they get all wrapped up in the fact that they aren’t just investing in art or buying a new doll for their collection,” Brooks says. “They are hosting a new companion who will inspire them to once again use their imagination.”
Since the early 1990s, Burns has been focused on fabricating the bylaws, customs, residential biographies and day-to-day activities of the N.B.Tween inhabitants. A lifelong dabbler in the arts, she merrily makes dolls that reflect the various denizens of this alternate reality.
“One of my goals was to create a doll like I didn’t have when I was a child,” the multitalented Brooks explains. “I use family photos to come up with the wide variety of hair, eye and skin combinations. When I show my dolls, I love it when people comment that one of them reminds them of someone they know.”
In addition to using familial portraits to help fashion her dolls, Burns has involved her mother, Vista Scott, in birthing these bright, young women, who are either categorized as Ragmores or the just-launched Scrappingtons.
“When my daughter asked me to share in the creation of the Ragmores, I thought it would be fun, and it has ended up being more than that,” Scott notes. “I get so involved! I don’t like to work on anything that doesn’t talk to me in return, but these Ragmores are like little people. They have a lot to say, and I listen. When my friends come to my home sometimes, everybody talks to the dolls while enjoying a cup of coffee with me. I keep a few of the ‘girls’ at my house all the time.”
Burns is proud to point out that her mom is a fine artist in her own right. When it comes to making the fabric folks, each lady has her own defined duty. “We share in the doll body construction,” Burns reveals. “Mom does the face, then I design the hair and clothing. When that’s done, I take a look at each doll and ask, ‘So what’s your name?’ When she answers, I create a vocation to suit her personality.”
Scott mirrors her daughter’s enthusiasm: “Sometimes when I get going, I don’t want to stop. Trying to pay attention to cooking and things like that, well let’s just say I’ve burned a lot of things and missed a lot of meals. The time just flies by with the dolls.”
“Mom and I make a great team,” Burns says. “What she has added has made them blossom even more. She’s as much a dreamer as I am, and she never questions my gibberish about the Ragmores or their land. She loves hearing my stories, and I love writing them. We both agree that Tween nonsense makes good sense.”
Another person who has entered the fantasy fold is Burns’s new husband, Chuck. “He is truly my rock when it comes to attending shows,” Burns attests. “He gives me a lot of space to do my thing and is very considerate of my mental travels to N.B.Tween. Having him involved in my life has made this journey all that much sweeter.”
Burns knows her obsession with her pet project and her dolls’ pedigrees might raise eyebrows among the skeptical and uninitiated. She is aware of boldly going where no one has gone before—forging a troupe of dolls that look different on the surface and sport unconventional attributes.
“In addition to making dolls that more honestly represent my race, I wanted to create personalities that are not the norm,” Brooks explains. “The theme for the land of N.B.Tween is set in the arts and sciences. Each province and its cities, streets, universities and shops all have wacky names that come from words relating to those scholarly branches.”
The sense of humor and whimsy that underscores all of N.B.Tween’s inhabitants is summed up in Burns’s brief description of the doll “Hattie.” “‘Hattie’ is a Measurette. She was born with an incredible ability to gauge. She once used a teaspoon to measure the wood lengths needed to make a spiral staircase and a yardstick to measure the correct amount of sand required to blow glass for an 85-gallon fishbowl.”
Such backward logic would be illogical anywhere else, but it makes perfect sense in N.B.Tween. Burns sincerely wishes the message of her landscape and its lore will resonate with both new explorers and familiar visitors: “I decided to create the Ragmores because there really weren’t dolls on the market that truly represented the colors of the African-American race. With my line, I wanted to create people with identities, not just dolls. I’ve sold my work to many people who have never thought about starting a doll collection. It’s a true compliment that everything about the dolls beckon a viewer to pause and pick one up for a closer look. Like any one-of-a-kind work, they must be handled carefully, but they are true rag dolls for the heart, so part of the beauty is that they can be handled.” The deepest desire of Burns and Scott is that these dolls will be handled and loved for decades to come. N.B.Tween may exist far away and far from home, but it is indeed close to their hearts.
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