A recent discussion about a particular Aboriginal doll made in the 1970s led to an eBay search for other Aboriginal or Native Australian dolls for comparison. On eBay is where I found beautiful handcrafted dolls by the talented award-winning, Australian artist, Wendy Frank.
One particular Frank doll captured my heart such that I had to have her. Before placing the beginning bid, I wrote the artist to inquire about US shipping. Her prompt reply was followed by a series of questions from me about her captivating dolls. Wendy forwarded several additional photos of other dolls to me and shared her technique (which is similar to the masters, Lenci, Wellings and Kruse) and her inspiration for making them.
Wendy Frank dolls begin with the mold of the face, which is a cast with a composition of paper-mâché and casting plaster. This takes many hours to dry to form a very hard mask. Fabric is then stretched over the mask and glued on to form the facial features. After drying, the material is stitched up and stuffed to form the head. The face is then painted with many coats of acrylic paint, after which, all facial features are painted to capture the true beauty of the Native Australian child. A body of cotton with movable limbs is then sewn from the artist’s own patterns. It is then stuffed. The fingers and toes, elbows and knees are also hand sewn. Shoes and extras are added as well as Aboriginal art painted or embroidered to embellish the vibrant clothing. Each doll is different, hand painted, hand sewn, and designed to create a one-of-a-kind heirloom. They are tagged, dated, and hand signed by the gifted artist for authenticity.
A variety of Wendy Frank dolls
Wendy indicated she began making the dolls for the same reason that black dolls were made in the US. “There just are no Aboriginal dolls for the Aboriginal kids here to feel pride and associate to, all bar white dolls painted or coloured black, or for that matter, very poor excuses for Australian Aboriginals… Aboriginal kids are some of the most gorgeous faces on this planet, in my opinion. It makes sense to make dolls that look like them. They deserve their own dolls as do all ethnicities.”
Before winning my two, 17-in/45-cm dolls, they had been listed and won by another eBay bidder who failed to follow through with payment. Fate would have it that I discussed Aboriginal dolls when I did with a fellow doll enthusiast, which led me to eBay, where I found Faith (the doll in blue) and Miracle, the doll in handmade Ugh boots and faux fur hoodie. The two were destined to travel from the land down under to join me and the other dolls in my collection in the US.
Faith is believing that miracles do happen.
For additional information about Wendy Frank dolls, contact the artist at firstname.lastname@example.org.