Friday, May 13, 2011

Everything Old is New Again

New doll face molds & pressed felt faces with their inspirations, from left to right Lenci Carmen 1995 felt, French 1920s silk, Lenci Bettina 1930s repro, Gre-Poir unnamed silk 1920s .
If you've been following this blog, then you will have noticed that yesterday Blogger had to remove all the posts written after a certain time in order to perform maintenance on the Web site. This included my painstakingly and, if I do say so, beautifully written third post! The site was down for some time, so I was a bit hesitant to start a project I might not be able to post. I reminded myself, however, that the goal is ultimately to work a little every day, whether I can blog about it or not. So, I got to work!

Shown in the photo are two head molds and a head sculpted as practice for another mold. The cloth faces are felt pressed from the larger mold. This is the replacement mold used in the Edith doll shown in earlier posts. The original mold cracked during baking. Actually, this is the THIRD mold, because the first sculpture was made from a  natural clay that, although the package promised it didn't need firing, fell all apart when dry! So, as in all of life, it's important to be flexible as an artist! It definitely takes a lot of trial and error.

Shown behind my molds and faces are the dolls used as models and the inspiration for my trying to learn this skill. I don't know if you are as blown away as I am by the fact that each one of those dolls is made from cloth! Specifically either felt or silk. They are also articulated, so their heads and limbs move and are able to be posed.There is NO form under their faces, as is commonly believed. The cloth has been pressed to keep the face shape. I was unable to fathom how cloth could be pressed to resemble plastic or porcelain from looking at photos online, so my wonderful husband bought me the Lenci Bettina (in the blue dress) in order that I might see one in person. Bettina was originally made around the 1930s by the Lenci doll company of Torino, Italy. This doll is a reproduction from the 1980s. The other Lenci is Carmen, a modern doll from 1995, the year I worked in Italy, so of course I had to have her! The dolls are posed atop a copy of The Lonely Doll, which features a Lenci series 109 doll from the 1920s. That doll was reworked by Dare Wright, the author, who repainted her eyes, replaced her wig, and made her new clothes.

The French dolls are probably both Gre-Poir from the 1920s. The one in tweed was in terrible condition and missing her nose until restored by the talented Virginia Gigure. She wears her original clothes. I love her little Chanel-style suit and ostrich feather! What a French fashion plate! I could hardly imagine how silk could be employed as a pressed doll, but here they are, nearly 100 years old, to prove it makes a great material! Most of these (besides Bettina) were purchased with the intent of re-selling them when I was done studying their construction, so check my store in future to see if I can bear to part with the little beauties!

The process of making the dolls is really pretty simple. You take a sheet of wool felt or other cloth, wet it on the inside with starch and the outside with water, press it in the mold, and bake it in a very slow (less than 200 degree) oven for a couple hours. Then you let it cool and dry. When it's dry you coat the inside with several layers of shellac or water seal, and when that's dry you coat the inside again with gesso. The you can paint the outside! The instructions I have say to use felt that's at least 70% wool. For my first dolls I used 100% wool. I could only find flesh tint in 20% wool, 80% viscose, and so I tried one face and, as you can see, it turned out fine. In fact, it's smoother than the 100% wool felt and so I think will be easier to paint. So, that's it. The bodies are constructed with joints like a teddy bear. Someday I would like to get hold of a Maggie Iacono felt so I can try the ball-jointed style, but first I am working on perfecting these.

I think doll artists really don't get the recognition they deserve from the art community. The process of converting sculpture to articulated cloth and making sure it is sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of play is no easy matter! When you consider that some of the dolls shown endured for nearly a century it's almost unbelievable! Some of the most famous doll artists were fine artists first, like Sasha Morgenthaler. They are almost always women and mothers who were unable to find a suitable doll for their child. Elena Scavini (Madame Lenci), for instance, sought a doll that was not made from breakable porcelain for her young daughter. So, she recreated the fragile doll in cheap, durable felt! If I can eventually reach the level of expertise of either of those women I'll be a really proud artist!

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