Bo Bergemann has always had a lot to say. Her dolls have functioned as a three-dimensional testament to what has been on her mind and in her heart. During my last round of correspondence with Bo, she was pondering leaving her home base in Hawaii to travel with her daughter to a specialized school for the deaf. Unsure of how she would maintain her gallery/retail space back home, Bo was in a state of flux. However, she knew three things forsure: she loves her daughter; she’s devoted to making sure her daughter will succeed; and she’s committed to finding a way to adapt to a new lifestyle and make the necessary changes to accommodate creativity on the road.
It is interesting to think of Bo located in California, away from the tropical climes of Hawaii, a landscape that has underscored so much of her earlier work. But when I thought about it some more, I realized that her outpouring of dolls has truly broken down the barrier of being geographic-centric. Even though her cultural upbringing as a Hawaiian, genetically hailing from Germanic ancestry, has colored many of her doll costumes and motifs, she’s also conjured up characters that are purely mythic and magical. They exist outside any particular time or place. They reside in a fantasy realm that is mingled with fashion and glamour.
Over the years, I’ve chatted with Bo and she has always been enthusiastic about whatever she is dreaming up. One of the reasons is that she does have a deep personal bond with whatever she is sculpting.
Back in 2016, for instance, after having traveled and experienced some one-on-one encounters with animals, she was in a self-described “feline frenzy.” She confided in me: “I actually held three cubs in Oregon — a lynx, an ocelot, and a tiger! Needless to say, they were inspiring. My husband has never liked cats. He is a ‘dog person,’ and he is the love of my life, so I’ve allowed him to rule in that arena. But even he was awed by these magnificent creatures! There is something so mysterious, intriguing, and secretive about cats. Yet, they are also cuddly and cute, especially domesticated ones. This is definitely showing up in my doll making going forward.”
While most people have an invigorating vacation experience — and buy a T-shirt, refrigerator magnet, or snow globe to commemorate it — Bo was able to infuse a line of dolls with that exhilarating moment of cuddling some big cats and being impacted by their beauty.
In all of her life, Bo has always sought the commonality of what makes someone or something precious. She’s attempted to make dolls that are universally sweet or emblematic of more innocent, wholesome times. As a mother, she has watched her children grow up, and has cheered them on as they have matured and grasped at fulfilling their potentials.
Her relationship with daughter Bree has dominated her most recent creations because when Bree was first adopted into the Bergemann household, doctors dismissed her chances of growing up healthy, strong, and with a purposed. Misdiagnosed and underestimated, Bree has had to struggle to attain milestones that others take for granted, but Bo never lost faith and never gave up hope. She was able to perceive something in her child — a spark, a light — that medical experts overlooked. She recognized that Bree had an intellectual capacity that doctors did not acknowledge, and she would mentor her daughter to exceed any limitations that her deafness and other physical disabilities might entail.
“People have asked me over the years how I do it. How did I take 15 severely medically fragile babies for 15 years of my life, and how did I deal with the overwhelming demands that entailed? How have I turned the sorrow of the loss of these foster children, whom I loved as my own, into the joy of doll making? And that is what I have done, and I have found a kindred spirit in my collectors. I find that they have a generosity, and they have a belief in ‘putting family first,’ no matter what the cost,” Bo wrote to me.
Hoping to enroll her daughter into a world-class academy for students with specialized needs, Bo is drawing upon her faith, her support from family members, and her well wishes sent to her from collectors and fans the world over.
“For me, dollmaking is definitely about art and creativity, which I love,” she stressed. “But these days it is more about the relationships and the people I’ve encountered. I hear from my collectors when they are struggling and I pray for them. I send them notes to cheer them on through their struggles, and they do the same for me. They are connected to me, and I to them. I have created dolls, and the dolls have created these meaningful relationships.”
Whether the dolls are her new ASL (American Sign Language) lineup, which contains hands that are swapped out for one another, featuring fingers curled into basic words and powerful concepts (friends and family, I love you, school, class, kitty cat, etc.), or her salutes to literary heroines as diverse as Wonder Woman and Alice in Wonderland, each doll holds a portion of Bo’s personality in their hands.
“I have had trials and tribulations in my life, and I have had to dig deep to believe in myself in order to survive,” she revealed to me. “I have had my strength and my confidence renewed through my faith, and I have taken my backstory, which has sorrow and pain in it, and have vowed never to let anything bad befall my three adopted children. My children have been, and continue to be, loved, provided for, treasured, and protected in ways I wish I could have been.”
Reviewing her childhood and her adulthood, Bo Bergemann has faced down personal struggles and has utilized her own perilous moments to bring hope and inspiration to others: “I believe God has used my little doll business to grow and strengthen me every step of the way, even through some very tough challenges. I am grateful for it. My business success has given me a confidence, and I have seen my own backstory played out in the lives of other young women. Countless teens and young women have been counseled toward healing and have been guided to the truth that they are not ‘what has been done to them.’ We all can choose to become the result of what WE choose to do in this life, with our lives. We should not let other people confine us. My doll business has allowed me to do things, see things, and go places I never would have imagined. It has helped me to help others, and for that, I am proud and grateful.”