I’ve always described myself as a textile artist and a dollmaker. I have the skills to embroider, stitch and sculpt features onto the face of any doll I make but they pretty much all turn out to have the same expression – slightly bemused, tired looking and with a wonky eye.
At the moment I’m making lots of dolls for an exhibition in September so I thought I’d show you photographs of the stages involved in making a stump doll but then write about something totally different. Except it’s not totally different – it’s about why I like making dolls so much and why I don’t think of them as children’s toys but as excuses to be creative.
I remember life before social media. It was great. The word “friend” was a noun not a verb and the word “unfriend” didn’t exist. Pedants like me twitch whenever they hear someone say “she wants to friend me” or “I’ve unfriended him” partly because of the grammatical pain caused and partly because to have a friend is a slightly deeper concept than social media platforms can grasp.
Some psychologists suggest that having between 3 and 5 friends is the ideal but it’s normal for some individuals to have more and some to have fewer. I’m in the fewer category but I was a late starter when it came to building a social network, mostly because of Julie. Julie arrived on Christmas Day when I was four. As plastic baby dolls go, she wasn’t weird or scary and I formed a deep relationship with her to the exclusion of real life chums apart from my sisters. I spent much of my childhood wanting to be a mermaid so Julie was regularly immersed in bowls of water; she took the blame for transgressions (particularly the one involving the remains of a half eaten Cadbury’s Creme Egg and an invasion of ants behind the settee in the living room) and she allowed me to knock out her two front teeth so I could ram Sugar Puffs into her mouth. Once – when I arrived home from school absolutely starving only to be refused a snack by an intransigent mum who said tea would be ready in half an hour – Julie let me to chew off her big toe in protest. I mean, what human friend would do that?
I never found out because as I made my way through life, I never really attracted people who wanted to be my friend. Perhaps this was because I unconsciously sent messages about the possibility of successful applicants being half drowned or force fed breakfast cereals. Equally it might have been because I didn’t feel the need for friends so was not bothered one way or the other.
When I was in my 20s I did a course in portrait painting and the tutor said he could tell I was interested in people. There quickly developed a “no, I’m not”, “yes, you are” dialogue that assured my early exit from the art class. Nearly forty years later I still say I’m in the “no, I’m not” category when it comes to being interested in people but “yes, I am” when it comes to being interested in the way in which faces tell the stories and map the journeys of a person’s life.
Incidentally Julie stayed with me for a long time – moving house, moving jobs and moving relationships – but always ending up sitting on top of the wardrobe in my bedroom. Then one day I saw her for what she really was – a lump of moulded plastic that had been mass produced in a factory on the other side of the world. I put her in a black bin bag and waved her goodbye as she was collected with the rubbish. And before anyone goes on about not throwing stuff into landfill, she was not fit for donation to a charity shop because of the dent in the back of her head (left warming in front of the fire on a cold day, 1966) and the crack across the middle of her face (thrown down the stairs after someone had a tantrum, 1969). These days I don’t want to be a mermaid, I never leave a Cadbury’s Creme Egg half eaten and I’m more of a Shredded Wheat than Sugar Puffs person. My dolls need to reflect who I am, tell my story and map my journey. Which is why they’re all slightly bemused, tired looking and have a wonky eye.
PS There are currently no vacancies for friends.