(Vinyl dolls from the Zawieruszynskis’ 2012 collection)
Photos courtesy of Henry & Zofia Zawieruszynski
I’ve worked in the doll industry for a long time now, and my path has intersected with many of the same people time and time again. That’s one of the heartening things about being in a niche profession for more than a decade. (Actually, two decades now — sheesh!!!!) While I am always joyful to see new blood coming into the doll world, it also pleases me endlessly when I get to chat with and spotlight familiar names and faces. Such is the case when I’ve been able to interview and break news about the always evolving, always impressive Zawieruszynskis.
For more than 25 years now, the married couple — Henry and Zofia — have called America their home. They have enjoyed great success as purveyors of elegant dolls — beautifully costumed creations that magically blend past gentility with present-day sensibility. It is a marvelous accomplishment, and the pair knows that collectors count on them to deliver this mixture of purity and modernity. What a challenge!
(Porcelain Simona and her doll, Paola)
Prior to settling in the United States — when I last chatted with them in spring 2016, they were in Minnesota — the Zawieruszynskis were residents of Poland. The two had pursued artistic careers behind the proverbial “Iron Curtain.” They both attended art school and both dreamed of earning a living with their hands, minds, and heart. Discovering the doll world has allowed them to seamlessly blend all parts of their psyche together.
When I spoke with Henry and Zofia via our e-mail and Facebook chat, they had a lot to say about their time in the doll realm.
“We still love what we are doing,” Henry assured me. “We are so happy that we have the support of retailers, dealers, and, of course, the collectors. We love to hear from our collectors because they help to inspire us. We always want to do better work, and we always want to please the people who have supported us and believed in us.”
(Porcelain Augustyna and resin Dina)
Zofia agreed with her husband’s sentiments: “Without our collectors, none of this could be possible. We receive a lot of e-mails and letters from them, and they have inspired us in many ways. We feel we have an obligation to them — to always do and present our best.”
The couple has garnered a slew of awards and ovations for their work in porcelain. Their preferred subject has always been dreamy-eyed, well-garbed girls. When I asked them why that seemed to have been their primary focus, they answered: “We want our dolls to be exquisite in every detail. We always hope that the collectors will recognize that they are made of the highest-quality material available.”
(Vinyl Patrick and his loyal dog companion)
Since the duo makes a point to keep up with the times — and, simultaneously, to keep up their dolls’ appearances — they have left their porcelain comfort zone and have made great strides in the arena of vinyl originals and BJDs.
As you can imagine, the departure from porcelain did shake them up a bit, but as consummate professionals, they made sure that their handiwork was given the best translation into this more sturdy form. One of the dolls that they tackled in a vinyl edition was a salute to their grandson, and they named this vinyl version “Patrick.” In fact, the artists who are lauded for their ladies have only made a handful of male dolls.
“The ‘Patrick’ doll is the fourth boy doll we have ever made. All the boys that we have created are made after our grandsons! We have done Dylan, Erick, Philippe, and finally Patrick this year. We have the ‘Patrick’ doll, and we have given him his best friend, a dog named ‘Misiek.’ We are very proud of our grandsons and of this new doll,” Henry shared.
(BJD Marylka, a smaller and younger 15-inch creation)
It is quite impressive that the doll makers never sit by and rest on past accomplishments. They are perennially figuring out new paths to explore, and the BJD boom was one that they admit they came to “reluctantly.”
According to Henry, “It was our collectors who demanded that we do a BJD. We hadn’t thought of doing one. We didn’t think it was our style. Our collectors and the dealers who sell our creations told us to try. They had faith in us.”
Zofia echoes her husband’s sentiments: “It took a long time, but finally three years ago, in 2013, we designed our new line of BJDs. We have had great success with them. They are exciting to design, and we understand why the collectors love to have them and ‘play’ with them.”
(Tosia, a 15-inch BJD)
Opening up the door to a new construction also invited the Zawieruszynskis to invite in a whole new look to their dolls’ body types and facial appearances. Because BJD suggests hands-on play and a more youthful, innovative movement, the designing duo “youthened” some of their BJD characters.
“For the BJDs, we have a completely new design this year. We have new, smaller bodies. These are 15-inch BJDs. To us, the dolls look more like 3- to 4-year-old girls. They are very sweet. Collectors will want to take care of them,” Henry said.
(Eliza, a vinyl 29-inch charmer)
No matter how they present their artwork, collectors always respond to their dolls’ wardrobe, countenance, charm, and aura. From meticulously styled hair to incredibly well-heeled shoes, their dolls are every inch a representation of what they want to achieve and accomplish with their artistry:
(Corinne, a 17-inch BJD)
“We are grateful for our success, and we are thrilled that people want to read and learn about us. We are honored to do what we do, and to have it received so well.”