Since 1980 doll artist Susan Krey has been beckoning collectors to join her in an imaginative journey. Skilled and insightful, the creative Krey sculpts dolls that are lovely and realistic. She has the rare ability to make art that is both lyrical and empirical: Her work celebrates beauty and poetry while simultaneously honoring the faces and traits of everyday down-to-earth people from across the globe. Her dolls are international ambassadors, glowingly and meticulously depicting citizens of the world.
The story of how and why Krey makes them is a voyage of external exploration and meaningful introspection. Her personal history, combined with a healthy appreciation for cultural legacies, is evident in the 2008 Krey Baby line.
This year’s coterie of exquisitely garbed and crafted dolls is a tribute to global sensibilities. There’s nary a blond-haired, blue-eyed farmer’s daughter among the group. Rather, the dolls have decidedly African and Asian characteristics. Taken as a whole, they are a testament to the grace and dignity that reside within all of us. Krey is honored to be the tour guide into a world that many of her collectors will never know firsthand.
“Recently, I traveled to Mexico where I went on a little art gallery tour,” Krey says. “That gave me the permission, if you will, to do what I like. Ethnic faces are fascinating and beautiful, so that’s what I do. This last vacation in Mexico helped to release my creativity a little further.”
The artist is no stranger to the challenges that face émigrés and immigrants. Born in England, she set off as a young woman to make a name for herself in Australia and then in the United States. She learned to adjust to her present landscape while never forgetting the horizons that once surrounded her. “England is my home with a rich culture that I am proud of, and it’s still very much a part of me,” Krey shares. “I went to art school in London, tromping through the galleries, where I grew as an artist. I fell in love with the Old Masters, French Impressionists and everyone else who ever put a brush to canvas. Our richest experiences are in our mind, imagination and spirit, but they are fueled by our surroundings and what we glean from them.”
Krey hails from a creative family, so she understood the temperament and sacrifices essential to follow an artistic path. “I was blessed with a mom who was an artist, and she sparked in me a love of art that was ready, willing and able. I won a Royal Society of Arts competition and used the money to go to Australia. There, I landed a job as a fabric designer—hence my love of color and fabrics. In Australia, I enjoyed my family; the light there is good, the people are lovely and my memories are warm. My perspective as I create is probably different because of my background, and hopefully my collectors see this in my work.”
The nine dolls that embody the 2008 collection are precious, indeed. Many are one-of-a-kind, and the others are limited to very small editions, usually of five pieces. They are rare and wondrous and highly sought after by Krey’s devoted following. “I am making dolls that I’m inspired to make, not necessarily to ‘sell’ them. I have the freedom to do this, and it’s very exciting for me. I think this is reflected in this year’s collection. It’s gratifying that people are responding to my artistic choices. I have a desire to express something different, in a way that is simple and tells a story of its own without using words.”
The motif of Krey’s current creations is “global warming”—not the climate variety but rather the bond that exists among all inhabitants of the planet. By examining overt differences, Krey has cleverly showcased the inherent similarities that defy geographical boundaries. Her commitment to celebrating the innocence and purity of childhood is not lost in translation.
“A portrait of a child from a far-off land can perhaps not only touch the heart but bring a feeling of that land to the observer. It can trigger the imagination and beguile you,” the artist theorizes. “This year, my theme took me where my heart was . . . to lands that I have never visited and to children I have never met.”
Though Krey had never mingled with these models personally, nor shared an intimate conversation with the child muses, she does have a real, deeply felt connection to their namesakes. “My African dolls were inspired by photos from my youngest son, Christopher, who is serving in the Peace Corps in West Africa. These are faces of cheeky boys and beautiful women whose stories will make you smile and break your heart. They are faces of those whose lives have been touched by a young man I love and miss. My doll ‘Sofara’ is where he lives, and ‘Bambra’ is the language he speaks.”
Her Asian creations are not born from such a familial tie, but they still resonate with the artist on a deeply personal and spiritual level. “The Chinese and Japanese dolls come from my love and fascination with a beautiful Asian face. Their coloring, their eyes and their faces are from another land of which I know little. Perhaps I was able to capture an expression and caught a feeling that will warm any heart. And their clothes! Who can resist a beautiful kimono, an obi tied in the traditional ‘butterfly’ way or a silk tunic in a rich color?”
As a fabric designer in her “past life,” Krey is very in touch with textures and tactile pleasures. She is smitten with the sensations that a bolt of silk or a swatch of velvet can evoke in her. “I love vintage fabrics. I do,” she says. “To find something that has ‘my name’ written all over it with the patina of age can spark my imagination. That is a good reason for creating a particular doll. The beauty of a beaded flapper dress, a romantic old wedding gown or a crisp, white cotton Victorian christening gown can be inspiring. It’s a case of ‘doll artist meets fabric designer.’”
To Krey’s way of thinking, she’s not alone with her desire to be challenged and introduced to new customs and mores. “I believe my collectors, too, want to be inspired. Their imaginations are triggered by faces and clothing from other nations. It opens the door to another world for them as it does for me. It’s a partnership that I am privileged to be a part of.”
As she approaches her 29th year in the doll industry—three decades of setting the bar higher and higher for herself—Krey shows no signs of fatigue or ennui. She is still excited to finish one collection and to begin work on the next. “I am ever grateful for the experiences that my love of art has given me throughout my life. It has been my friend for as long as I can remember. I have been able to use my hands, my brush and my imagination. It has brought me fun, joy and frustration,” Krey observes.
“My mind is ever full with something more than the mundane. It is focused on what I can create and what I can express next. It has filled my life—too much sometimes—and I am always looking forward with anticipation. I know what I have comes as a great and generous gift from God. When my collectors are able to share in this gift, all the better.”
Finished with her 2008 offerings, the artist can’t reveal what is perched on her drawing board for next year. One thing is for sure—her Krey Baby dolls will continue to evolve, and they will once more highlight her affinity and appreciation of the feminine form. Krey pleads guilty to this fem bias. “I am the mother of four boys but, alas, only one girl. Do you blame me for making more little girls? As a matter of fact, I started making dolls after I had my last baby boy. Having babies is the most creative thing one can do. I just kept on going . . . and going!” Collectors everywhere are grateful for her maternal instinct and her fantastically fertile imagination.
For more information, visit www.kreybaby.com or call (425) 483-0537.