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2402 W Rd
Bennington, VT, 05201
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802-447-7072

A behind-the-scenes look at the R. John Wright Dolls Design Studio in Bennington, Vermont. Written by R. John Wright, hear in his own words how the creative design process unfolds and how the world-renowned RJW dolls and animal characters are readied for production. 

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A behind-the-scenes look at the R. John Wright Dolls Design Studio in Bennington, Vermont. Written by R. John Wright, hear in his own words how the creative design process unfolds and how the world-renowned RJW dolls and animal characters are readied for production. 

In the Bleak Midwinter, Long Ago

John Wright

In the Bleak Midwinter
By Christina Rossetti

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

In January, Christmas lights begin to dim, their dying shadows tripping a last dance on ice covered streets.  Evergreens often bow under snowy weight, and people are unrecognizable, bundled as they are under coats, scarves, hats, and gloves.  During the day, children rally and make snow angels, slide down hills on sleds, and bring snowmen to life.  At night, the stars twinkle in brilliantly frigid skies made darker somehow because it is so cold.

Dolls for this time of year also sport winter attire.  Like their cousins, the snowmen and snowwomen, dolls wear coats and mufflers, tiny hats and gloves. R. John Wright’s Winter comes complete with scarf, snowsuit, and sled, ready for all kinds of arctic adventures!  Lillian, the first R. John Wright child doll wears a woolen cap and carries a miniature of the first RJW doll made.  Her winter plaid jumper is warm and toasty, too.  Hummel Skier reminds us of winter sports, especially Winter Olympics, and Brownie Canadian is bundled up for the clearly cold Canadian winter.

Snowbabies, first made popular by Peary’s expedition to the North Pole, made their debut in the late 19th century, inspired in part by the Admiral’s daughter.  Some collectors argue that they were first released as cake toppers, but that their debut coincided with the birth of the Peary baby. Snowbabies wear white, bunting snowsuits sprinkled with tiny porcelain “snow balls.” Snowbabies have been made in Germany, Japan, and China.  Dept. 56 recreated them a few years in porcelain and lead. 

Teddy Bears wear their own fur, but unlike their real counterparts, don’t tend to hibernate, except in temperature controlled collectors’ cabinets and cases!   Other animals commemorate winter as well.  Snowball, first in the Christmas Kittens series by R. John Wright wears a darling red cloak trimmed in fur, and Holly wears a spring of the famous evergreen.  Holly is more than a Christmas decoration; it is an evergreen important to the Norse myths and other cultures.  Holly and other evergreens grace winter gardens and tables long after The Holidays are over.  Pine Tree Fairy by RJW is delicate but sturdy against winter winds.  Evergreens remind us that, if they can endure winter, so can we.

R. John Wright bears Woodruff and Willoughby, along with other RJW bears and animals, invite one to cuddle them, and perhaps hibernate a little bit, too, during the longer nights and shorter days that characterize the cold months.  Winter is a good time to collect winter-themed dolls and to make New Year’s resolutions about all the dolls in your collection.  Just remember to button up, because “baby, it’s cold outside!”

About the author: Ellen Tsagaris has collected dolls since she was three years old. She has made dolls, priced dolls, repaired, dressed, and studied dolls.  She has set up at craft shows and presented papers on dolls and their history at the Midwest Modern Language Association.  She is the author of several articles on dolls that have appeared in Doll Reader, National Doll World, Doll Designs, International Doll World, Hope and Glory, Doll News, Adventures, and The Western Doll Collector. She is the author of two books about dolls, Bibliography of Doll and Toy Sources and With Love from Tin Lizzie; A History of Metal Heads, Metal Dolls, Mechanical Dolls, and Automatons.  An active blogger, she features two blogs about dolls, Dr. E’s Doll Museum, and Doll Museum.  She lectures on dolls for various organizations and has displayed part of her collection in museums.

“Dolls are among the oldest cultural artifacts, and perhaps are the oldest toys.  My passion for dolls began when I was a toddler, and it has never stopped. Explore the wonderful world of all things ‘doll’ with me.”

Animals and Christmas: A Special Meaning

John Wright

1. Jesus our brother, kind and good
Was humbly born in a stable rude
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

2. "I," said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
"I carried His mother up hill and down;
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town."
"I," said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

3. "I," said the cow all white and red
"I gave Him my manger for His bed;
I gave him my hay to pillow his head."
"I," said the cow all white and red.

4. "I," said the sheep with curly horn,
"I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm;
He wore my coat on Christmas morn."
"I," said the sheep with curly horn.

5. "I," said the dove from the rafters high,
"I cooed Him to sleep so He would not cry;
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I."
"I," said the dove from the rafters high.

6. Thus every beast by some good spell,
In the stable dark was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
The gift he gave Immanuel.

7. "I," was glad to tell
Of the gift he gave Immanuel,
The gift he gave Immanuel.
Jesus our brother, kind and good.

                 Carol of the Friendly Beasts, 12th C. Latin hymn for Christmas

Animals of all kinds have been a part of the holidays for centuries, ever since the first Nativity. Animals are also associated with St. Francis of Assisi. Early Crèche, Nativity, or Precipio scenes incorporate animals of all kinds: doves, cows, camels, sheep and lambs, goats, dogs, birds in general, cows, donkeys, and more.   More than one Christmas story involves animals being given the beast of speech on Christmas Eve as a reward for their shelter of The Christ Child.  Even spiders have their place in Christmas stories; their webs were turned to gold and silver on a Christmas tree they climbed in order to see it more closely.

Bonzo by R. John Wright is a wonderful reminder of the role that animals, especially dogs, play in The Holidays.  Who wouldn’t want this darling, wriggling puppy waiting for him or her on Christmas Morning?

Darling Bonzo is based on “The Sketch” (1922) by George E. Studdy.  He is the happiest puppy ever to wag his tale in Dolldom!

During the 1920s, Bonzo was one of the most popular characters, if not the most popular character, of his time.  He inspired stories, art, figurines, and all kinds of memorabilia.  He is back for his encore as an R. John Wright creation, made of wool plush with fine felt details and molded/hand painted features.  One half expects him to bark in happiness.

Other wonderful “children” of the R. John Wright studios personify the spirit of “The Carol of the Friendly Beasts” including Angel Serenade which features a lamb, and The Christmas Kittens and Father Christmas Mice.  

Springtime Lambs and Toddler Bears are also beloved animals of RJW Studios.

In the past, R. John Wright has given us many animal characters including the “stars” of Winnie the Pooh, Joey the Koala, more bears, and Tulip the Rabbit. This wonderful menagerie reminds one of a favorite episode of The Vicar of Dibley (PBS and BBC TV) where Geraldine the Vicar holds a service to bless animals, and a few little children bring their teddy bears. 

.  Children, animals, and beloved stuff toys have all become icons of Christmas, something R. John Wright clearly understands.  Season’s Greetings to All, and a Peaceful, Happy New Year!

About the author: Ellen Tsagaris has collected dolls since she was three years old. She has made dolls, priced dolls, repaired, dressed, and studied dolls.  She has set up at craft shows and presented papers on dolls and their history at the Midwest Modern Language Association.  She is the author of several articles on dolls that have appeared in Doll Reader, National Doll World, Doll Designs, International Doll World, Hope and Glory, Doll News, Adventures, and The Western Doll Collector. She is the author of two books about dolls, Bibliography of Doll and Toy Sources and With Love from Tin Lizzie; A History of Metal Heads, Metal Dolls, Mechanical Dolls, and Automatons.  An active blogger, she features two blogs about dolls, Dr. E’s Doll Museum, and Doll Museum.  She lectures on dolls for various organizations and has displayed part of her collection in museums.

“Dolls are among the oldest cultural artifacts, and perhaps are the oldest toys.  My passion for dolls began when I was a toddler, and it has never stopped. Explore the wonderful world of all things ‘doll’ with me.”

R. John Wright 2016 Holiday Gift Guide

John Wright

To make gift giving ideas easier this year, we put together an R. John Wright Holiday Gift Guide. Whether you are shopping for yourself or someone special on your list, there is something perfect waiting in our workshop. Purchase through the RJW Company store and receive autograph service by R. John Wright and free shipping. The commentary in our gift guide was written by RJW enthusiast and Doll Collecting Expert, Ellen Tsagaris.

Click on the titles and photos to shop the RJW pieces online or call 802-447-7072 to order.

1) Christmas Kittens : Holly & Jingles: "These 2 little kittens are a Christmas carol themselves, I’m not “kitten “you!  They look ready to break out the catnip cocoa and Meow Mix for Santa Paws!!"

2) Fairy Tale Mice: "Charmingly realistic in a style reminiscent of Beatrix Potter and Richard Scarry, these original Mouse interpretations of beloved fairy tales fit conveniently in a pocket or a curio. Imagine them wandering in their own miniature Mouse House or Enchanted Mini Forest. One thinks of the Door Mouse’s “Long Tail” in Alice in Wonderland, but we don’t want the Fairy Tale Mice Series ever to end!"

3) Mouse House: "No need to imagine anymore; RJW brings to life the Mouse House for our Fairy Tale Citizens.  Move over Hunca Munca, we’ve just improved the curb appeal in this mini-neighborhood.  Talk about thinking outside the doll house!!"

4) The Zinnia Fairy, inspired by Cicely Mary Barker: "In some parts of the world, Christmas doesn’t mean snow or holly; it means beautiful flowers in all colors.  The Zinnia Fairy‘s deep, reddish pink and green hues work for Christmas or spring. Her childlike innocence reminds us that goodness and peace still exist, even in a complicated world. The meaning of zinnias in The Language of Flowers is endurance, and in this, our fairy is like the evergreen."

5) Alice in Wonderland, Commemorative Edition: "Curiouser and curiouser, Alice and her friends never go out of style!  This wonderful Alice by RJW could have stepped out of the pages of the classic Tenniel edition of Lewis Carroll’s classic work."

6) Angel Serenade: “Feed my lambs/Tend my sheep/Over all a vigil keep/In my name/Lead them forth/Gently as a shepherd.” These lines from a Children’s Christmas Hymn evoke the gentle Hummel angel and her tiny, precious lamb.  What better symbol of the holidays than this piece skillfully done in felt that so wonderfully echoes the porcelain figure that inspired it."

7) Celestial Musician:  "Also based on the art of Sister Maria Innocentia, these beautiful violinist is a reminder that we need angels now more than ever.  Close your eyes, and you can hear the violin strains of “Angels from the Realms of Glory!”

8) The Wicked Witch of the West: Elphaba Thropp herself could not have conjured up a better doll portrait of herself!  From her delightfully evil face to her ball and socket body, this “witchy woman” is a delightful addition to any collection.

9) St Nicholas: RJW is pleased to introduce St. Nicholas, first in a series of Father Christmas figures presented as mice.  This little St. Nick fits down the chimney of Mouse House or any favorite doll house.  For anyone who loves Michael Brown’s Santa Mouse, he belongs under their tree.

10) Captain Corey: “Home is the sailor, home from sea”, lines written by Robert Louis Stevenson, describes this wonderful boy perfectly.  He could be the little boy doll hero in Rumer Godden’s novel about dolls, Home is the Sailor.  For any of us who has loved someone who sailed the seas, or was in the armed forces, he is a must, more family than doll."

About the author: Ellen Tsagaris has collected dolls since she was three years old. She has made dolls, priced dolls, repaired, dressed, and studied dolls.  She has set up at craft shows and presented papers on dolls and their history at the Midwest Modern Language Association.  She is the author of several articles on dolls that have appeared in Doll Reader, National Doll World, Doll Designs, International Doll World, Hope and Glory, Doll News, Adventures, and The Western Doll Collector. She is the author of two books about dolls, Bibliography of Doll and Toy Sources and With Love from Tin Lizzie; A History of Metal Heads, Metal Dolls, Mechanical Dolls, and Automatons.  An active blogger, she features two blogs about dolls, Dr. E’s Doll Museum, and Doll Museum.  She lectures on dolls for various organizations and has displayed part of her collection in museums.

“Dolls are among the oldest cultural artifacts, and perhaps are the oldest toys.  My passion for dolls began when I was a toddler, and it has never stopped. Explore the wonderful world of all things ‘doll’ with me.”

RJW Collector Spotlight with Janice Cheng

John Wright

Do you remember your first R. John Wright piece?

Piglet with Violets. I remember walking through a local doll shop and glancing down at the floor. Among a pile of other things, I saw a lovely green box with an E.H. Shepard illustration on it. I opened that box to find the most wonderful rendition of Piglet I had ever seen. I had found one of my favorite childhood characters created by what would become one of my favorite artists.
Early Little Children Dolls by R. John Wright

Early Little Children Dolls by R. John Wright

What is your favorite thing about collecting?

Being surrounded by art. It makes me happy. I have display cabinets, but I have pieces all over my house. What I especially like about doll collecting is that I can “play” with them. I have fun creating different displays and searching for accessories I think will compliment them. It makes me feel just a bit like I am part of the creative process. My friend, Pat Knowles, made the 7 dwarfs’ house, Santa’s sleigh and the Mad Hatter’s tea party table.
There’s also the friendships I’ve developed through doll collecting. I have met wonderful people with the same passion for dolls that I have. These friendships are even more precious to me than collecting.

We know it is really hard to narrow it down but can you give us your top three very favorite pieces?

“Really hard” is right! I don’t collect just to see how many I can accumulate. Every piece is special to me in some way. But I will give this a try. Chinaman Brownie (makes me laugh), tie between all the Geppettos and Pinocchios (captures those characters to perfection), and The Gardeners, Painting the Roses Red (love those faces and skinny legs!)

We see you have a lot of pieces from Fairy Tales. Have you always loved Fairytales?

I love tales period. My mom instilled in me a great love of reading, and some of my best childhood memories are of my mom reading stories, especially “Winnie the Pooh”, to my brother and me. She also recorded books on a reel-to-reel tape recorder so I could listen to her read whenever I wanted. That love of reading and of fantasy characters, has stayed with me into adulthood.

Is there something that R. John Wright hasn’t created that would be a dream creation for you?

There are so many characters I would love to see brought to life. “The Jungle Book”, especially Mowgli, would be amazing. Although not as popular as some Disney movies, I love “Brave”. That big, curly red hair on Merida would be unbelievable on a doll. Or any creation with really big, long curly hair.
I am somewhat familiar with license requirements, so instead, creating original versions of Hansel, Gretel, and the Witch, Rapunzel, and Peter Pan would be really fun. An R. John Wright horse would be incredible too. Maybe a prince riding a horse! After all, how can you have fairytales without including Prince Charming?!
I would also like to see more pieces added to existing collections. Such as the Cheshire Cat, hedgehog and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum to Alice in Wonderland, a flying monkey to Wizard of Oz, and a wolf to go with Little Red Riding Hood.

If you could ask R. John Wright a question, what would it be?

Why do some prototypes never make it into production? Such as the wolf for Little Red Riding Hood and a couple of the “Little Children”. I also noticed there were plans for a Tintin and Snowy that seems to have gone by the wayside.

Answer from R. John Wright:

"Good question! There aren't too many editions which never come to fruition but every now and then it happens. The reasons are as varied as the items themselves. Quite often another larger project will push the item off center stage. For example, when we made the Wolf prototype for Red Riding Hood, the Snow White project jettisoned those plans and we never got back to it.
Tintin was a different type of situation. We loved the Tintin books and read them to our children. But we were apprehensive about hitching our wagon to a movie we had not yet seen. When we finally saw the film we were sorely disappointed. The studio had originally announced plans for 2 more Tintin films but the weak reviews caused those to be canceled. Suddenly the situation had changed dramatically. We had begun sculpting but we're now at a crossroads. We reluctantly made the decision to cancel the project. It's still possible that we will do Tintin based on the original books — which we probably should have done in the first place!"
Early RJW Pieces

Early RJW Pieces

"Stephana proudly wears her Peter Rabbit boutonniere for special occasions!"

"Stephana proudly wears her Peter Rabbit boutonniere for special occasions!"

THANK YOU to Janice Cheng for bringing us into her whimsical world! What a fantastic way to kick off December!

RJW Artisan Spotlight: Bonnie Pfeiffer

John Wright

Bonnie Pfeiffer is celebrating her 28th year as an artisan at R. John Wright Dolls and we are thrilled that she is our first RJW Artisan Spotlight! Our social media director Rachel sat down with Bonnie for an interview. 

Introduction from R. John Wright: "Bonnie was among our earliest face painters and she worked on the 7 Dwarfs which were the 1st RJW dolls not painted by Susan and myself. Since then, she has been responsible for the painting on literally thousands of dolls. Bonnie is also one of our most skilled seamstresses. She is one of the few that can sew the smallest individual fingers. She is amazingly accurate and conscientious and it is rare that she is unable to do anything you give her!" 

Rachel: How did you get te job?

Bonnie: "I was raising 4 kids at home and I wanted to go out and do something different along with that. I happened to see that a department store was hiring and I went inside to apply. They told me that the supervisor was out to lunch and told me to come back in a half hour. R. John Wright dolls was right next door and was hiring as well. I went inside (not even knowing what it was) and did seamstress test and was hired right away. (I know that it was definitely meant to be!)

Rachel: Do you create things away from your job as an artist?

Bonnie: "I have been sewing since the age of 8. I do painting on glass and I love knitting and different crafts like that. Pretty much everything I have done at home has been learned on my own. I used to do a lot of cake decorating for weddings. Since I started working at RJW, I found different ways of doing things outside of work."

Rachel: How is working at RJW different from 'traditional' ways of doing things?

Bonnie: "It was hard to get used to industrial machines and that took me awhile to get used to. We don't pin anything together here which was different for me because I was used to pinning everything together with pins from patterns before. Here, we work without the pins and just put it together very slowly, stitch by stitch. I am amazed at how Susan designs the clothing and you look at it"what is this" and it just all comes together. I have learned how to do that same concept at home. I am more attentive when looking at things than I used to be. Because of my attention to painting a doll's face, I really pay attention to people and their expressions now - especially their eyebrows. Eyebrows are so important."

Rachel: What are some of your favorite collections? A couple of your ALL TIME favorite pieces? 

Bonnie: "The 7 Dwarfs a far as painting. That is when RJW stopped painting each doll himself. We took a test in how skilled you were in doing mirrored images and the 7 dwarfs were the first ones that I started painting. Each collection had so many dolls that John and Susan couldn't do them all by themselves so they needed help. Painting that first collection was a thrill. As far as animals, Christmas Kittens are my favorite. I love them. Snowball is my favorite. They gave me a Snowball for my 25th anniversary."

Rachel: It's been 28 years. What are some of your favorite memories?

Bonnie: "It's so hard to choose as it's been an incredible journey.  We are like a family. We have ups and downs like any family but we work it all out. Those memories and roots really mean something."

"I remember when we all got to go to Disneyworld as a group on an all expense paid trip as a thank you for all of our hard work in 1989. The whole thing was just so fun for us all to be together as a group and sharing that time. It feels like we are one big family. It was like a family going on vacation."

"Also the group we have now is awesome. Everyone works so well together. We do baby showers and dinners for birthdays here at the workshop. I couldn't imagine my life any different and I am glad the manager was out to lunch on that fateful day 28 years ago when I walked through the doors of R. John Wright Dolls for the first time."

 

 

 

RJW Collector Spotlight: Paul Ward

John Wright

RJW: Do you remember your first R. John Wright piece? 

Paul Ward: The first RJW figure that I acquired was “Mississippi Bear Hunt.”  I found this particular piece in an antique/collectibles collective in a neighboring community.  Ted and the cub were without their box and the gun was in pieces and missing some bits.  However, the certificate was there and otherwise the doll was in great shape.  I figured at the price that was being asked, I could afford to “rescue” what I knew to be a very collectible piece.  I ended up contacting Amy at RJW about sending the gun back to the shop for restoration, which was done, and so now Teddy and Bear are good as new.  Still no box, but hey at least they’re in a home where they are appreciated, cared-for and protected!

RJW: Why do you collect?  

Paul Ward: I have been a collector for most of my life.  As a child growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s I was raised with all things “Disney.” Of course there was also TV and all the ads to buy this and collect that.  I doubt many kids (let alone their parents) came through that era of watching Disneyland being built, the Mickey Mouse Club and all the myriad offers, promotions and must-haves that ensued without starting some kind of collection.  Plus, I was always fascinated with anything miniature, which made me even more susceptible to the collecting bug.  Collecting has been with me for so long that it is almost certainly engrained in my DNA by now.  The good news is that as I have aged, my taste has matured and I am now more discerning in what I collect, which is also bad news when it comes to cost! Oh well!  Some people buy clothes…I collect! 

RJW: We love that you are drawn to Brownies. What is it about them that interested you to start collecting them?  

Paul Ward: Ah yes, the Brownies!  Part of my fascination has to do with my dad and his stories about the Brownies and Brownie-Points when HE was a child in the ‘20s.   But mostly it is the fantasy of things magical and miniature and my fascination with the same.  When you think about it, the Wright's Brownies are very nearly facsimile in size to the “real” beings.  I mean how could I possibly resist having a whole troop of the little guys living in my doll case!  Obviously I couldn’t and I didn’t!  

RJW: Is there something that R. John Wright hasn’t created that would be a dream creation for you? 

Paul Ward: That’s a really good question.  I adore “Harry Potter” and all of Rowlings writings about the magical world.  But, that ship has pretty much sailed when it comes to collectibles.  And, like the Wrights, I think illustrative art for children’s books is some of the best around.  But, one of my long standing rules about artists and their work is: Don’t interfere!  I collect RJW pieces when they speak to me, and spark my imagination.  I know the quality is always going to be there.  Also, the artistry can be counted on 100%.  So I figure, the job of RJW and company is to imagine and realize their artistic expression to best of their abilities and my job is to appreciate what they create and collect what moves the heart of my inner child.

RJW: If you could ask R. John Wright a question, what would it be?

Paul Ward: Can I come live in your workshop and watch you create and work?  Kidding! I know you’ve talked about the process of taking an idea/image and moving it to a three-dimensional figure in felt.  And you have also talked about creating your pieces from sources created by others.  Is there a particular set of criteria or guidelines you follow in choosing a source for a figure?  And, once you’ve found an image you want to translate into your medium (felt/cloth), what does it take to "bring it in-house” so you can begin your actual creating?  

From R. John Wright: Hi Paul, Great to hear from you and to see your terrific collection. I appreciate the way you have showcased the dolls and animals so elegantly—both singly and in groups. I'll try to answer your question but let me know if it brings up further questions!
Our work varies a lot as it encompasses animal characters as well as dolls. And the directions we decide to take are sometimes unpredictable. We enjoy doing things we've never done before. I'm proud of the diversity of our output but I can see where collectors may wonder how we choose projects.
There are no set guidelines in choosing what to do, but unlike some artists, we are most comfortable working with strong source material. Obviously, we gravitate towards imagery that has stood the test of time. And despite the fact that we've been inspired by classic images for 40 years, we still have a lot of things on our 'To Do' list. Sometimes a subject will percolate on the back burner for several years before we move it to the front and begin to focus on it. For example, the Wizard of Oz series was something we wanted to do for decades. It took that long for us to feel that our skills had advanced to the point where we could do the project justice.
We have a large flat file in our design room stuffed with inspirational material gathered over the years. Of course, with the advent of the Internet we also have corresponding digital files of images to inspire us. Categories include: Children; Bears; Animals as well as sub-topics and individual characters many of which are well-known or licensed. The images are both real and imagined - modern and vintage - so it covers a lot of territory.
What brings a specific image or character to the forefront? If we are under license, quite often that will dictate that we focus on a specific property. There are financial obligations associated with holding a product license. Or perhaps we will want to design something seasonal (such as a Christmas item) or something to compliment a special event (like one of our convention souvenirs). We may decide to design something for a special group of collectors - such as our mice enthusiasts or those that collect RJW bears. There are many reasons which can compel us to design a specific item.
Once we land on a new project, the creative process is merely a series of questions which must be answered. To start, we gather together any 2-dimensional images that pertain to that item. The first question will be 'Scale' - What size will the finished item be? From there, the second question will be 'Materials' - What materials will be used and will any new materials need to be ordered? The third question will be whether any new molds will be required. If the answer is 'yes', we will need to get out the clay and begin sculpting. From there, depending on the complexity of the project, it can take up to 3 months to complete the prototype. Actual production can usually begin shortly thereafter.
 

If you would like to be featured in an RJW Collector Spotlight on our blog, email the RJW Social Media Team: rachel80210@hotmail.com