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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. 

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News & Updates

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. 

Nothing Gold Can Stay

John Wright

Ellen Tsagaris is the resident RJW Design Journal guest blogger. She has collected dolls since she was three years old. She has made dolls, priced dolls, repaired, dressed, and studied dolls and her blogging work can be found on the doll collecting section of about.com and on her personal doll blogs, Doll Museum, and Dr. E's Doll Museum blog. Ellen is a fan and collector of R. John Wright dolls and we were fortunate to have her guest blog for us about dolls in the colors of fall.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

            This wonderful poem by Robert Frost, whose very name reminds me of Jack Frost and Frost Fairies that paint leaves, always reminds me of autumn.  And with other seasons, autumn and its color inspire dolls with fall themes.

Dried apple dolls

Dried apple dolls

            This post is dedicated to dolls dressed in the beautiful colors of autumn, those fleeting gorgeous hues that never seem to stay long, but that paint the landscape in gold, orange, red, yellow, dark green, purple, and brown.    Some dolls even are made of acorns or other nuts harvested in fall, some are made of dried apples, gourds, cornhusks, corncobs, dried fall flowers and seed pods.

Autumn leaves by R. John Wright

Autumn leaves by R. John Wright

In 1945, Lois Lensky penned a wonderful story called Strawberry Girl, where, among other things, a little girl made dolls of gourds to sell.

Cornhusk dolls have a long history as well. I even remember my Girl Scout Guide Book had illustrations and instructions for making them.  We even learned to create them in 10th grade art, collecting and soaking our own cornhusks.  My project was a replica of an unusual cornhusk doll with a Victorian outfit and elaborate hat.  Kids in our neighborhood used to make them from leftover cornfields.  We would gather old cobs and the husks and sit on the ground in fall and use bits of cloth to make clothes.  Even the boys joined in.

Corn Husk Dolls "The Bride" by Vermont Dolls

Corn Husk Dolls "The Bride" by Vermont Dolls

The cornhusk doll’s history is part of Native American tradition, particularly Iroquois, though I have a small doll that is Cherokee.  Their origin dates to the story of the Three Sister, The Corn, one of the three sisters, created the dolls from husks.  You can read more of the legend in the book Our Corn Mother, by Mather, Fernandes and Brescia, 1981. According to Native American Technology and Art’s website, cornhusk dolls have been made for 1000 years or more.  To the Northeastern Native American, the dolls served as toys and in healing ceremonies.

Public Domain. 1st C. AD. Ecuador or Columbia

Public Domain. 1st C. AD. Ecuador or Columbia

Other dolls are made of gold, like jointed pre-Columbian figures found in tombs, or the precious statues and Ushabti found in ancient Egyptian tombs like King Tut’s.

The color gold is associated with abundance, wealth, and prosperity, which are also the characteristics of a good harvest.  Harvest dolls and corn dollies are ancient figures made of spun and braided wheat that are hung from year to year in farm homes to ensure a good crop.  Many have their origins in England, but Scandinavia and Eastern Europe hold similar beliefs. The belief in Pagan Europe was that the spirit of the corn or grain lived among the crop.  Of course, the dark side of the myth morphed into Stephen King’ classic story, “The Children of the Corn.”  Sir James Frazer wrote about them in The Golden Bough, calling them corn maiden or corn mothers.

Who hasn’t had the pleasure of gathering leaves of different colors to press among the pages of heavy books?  A few of us ironed pretty leave between sheets of wax paper or used them to make stamps for leaf designs.  Small dolls dressed in silk leave are popular as favors, but other dolls are made from banana leaves, acorns, nuts like Miss Hickory is, twigs, and other types of plants. Color figures in traditional costume are pointed on leaves from India.

Marie Gleeson Dolls are made of leaves, flowers, nuts, and fiber native to the Bahamas.  Dolls made of banana leaves come from Africa, while moss trolls are products of Denmark.

Marie Gleeson Doll. Author.

Marie Gleeson Doll. Author.

Laura Ingalls Wilder played with Susan, a corncob doll.  Garth William captured her for posterity playing with Susan while Mary played with Nettie, a rag doll.

The color red is associated with valor and passion.  Orange symbolizes joy, sunshine, and enthusiasm.  The most amazing autumn leaves and berries sport these colors.  Dolls dressed in red and orange are vibrant and warm. 

The Hazel-nut Fairy is part of the Autumn Fairies Collection created by R. John Wright.  She is inspired by Mary Cicely Barker’s flower fairy illustrations.

Hazelnut Fairy by R. john Wright

Hazelnut Fairy by R. john Wright

Purple mums and late pansies abound in fall garden displays. Purple is associated with courage and valor.  Doll dressed in autumnal purple can represent royalty, or Halloween figures.

Zinnia Fairy by R. John Wright

Zinnia Fairy by R. John Wright

Brown is another color associated with autumn and with Thanksgiving.  It symbolizes protection, stability and security.  It is also the color of earth. Many dolls dressed in brown represent pilgrims, Jack Frost, Brownies, sprites, and other characters associated with fall.

11.5 inch Pine Tree Fairy from the R. John Wright Flower Fairies of the Winter

11.5 inch Pine Tree Fairy from the R. John Wright Flower Fairies of the Winter

Dolls dressed in autumn colors and made of autumnal materials are as varied as the leaves whose colors they wear.  They are a harvest of different styles and make a fascinating collection in themselves.

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Tom, Sylvie, and Pumpkin Moonshine

John Wright

Ellen Tsagaris is the resident RJW Design Journal guest blogger. She has collected dolls since she was three years old. She has made dolls, priced dolls, repaired, dressed, and studied dolls and her blogging work can be found on the doll collecting section of about.com and on her personal doll blogs, Doll Museum, and Dr. E's Doll Museum blog. Ellen is a fan and collector of R. John Wright dolls and we were fortunate to have her guest blog for us about Tasha Tudor, Pumpkin Moonshine, and Pumpkins.

"The Pumpkin" (1850)

Oh!—fruit loved of boyhood!—the old days recalling,

When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!

John Greenleaf Whittier

Pumpkin Moonshine (1938) was Tasha Tudor’s first book. In a video that features her talking about her life, Tudor talks about how many rejections she suffered before a publisher picked it up.  One of the earlier publishers that had rejected her wanted to know why she hadn’t brought the book to them, and she answered that she had, and they had swiftly turned her down.  Tudor admitted to feeling a little wicked glee at being able to answer the publisher this way.

Tudor’s spicy personality adds to the wonderful “spice” in her books, like this one about Halloween.  It’s timeless; we read the story and once again we are in the child’s world of Halloween, school costume parades, bobbing for apples, Trick-or-Treating with mom or dad keeping watch, popcorn balls, caramel apples, and bags of candy that we could actually eat without benefit of X-ray.

This delightful story belongs on the bookshelf with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie BrownMiss Flora McFlimsey’s HalloweenStellaluna, andRay Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree. These characters populate childhood, and make us feel the chill breeze of fall and see the oranges, golds, reds, and brown of autumn.

Tom and Sylvie by R. John Wright bring a 3D dimension to our pumpkin dreams.  RJW has captured the innocence and sense of fun that pervade Tudor’s books, even as we marvel at her deceptively simple illustrations

Really, Halloween and jack-o-lanterns are also deceptively simple.  The first jack-o-lanterns are Celtic in origin, and were probably turnips.  They were carved with faces into small lanterns and reminded their carriers of Jack, who searched the world holding a lantern containing an ember from hell, looking for salvation after he nearly lost his soul to the devil.  Like the gargoyles that guard many buildings, especially cathedrals, the grotesque pumpkin faces were meant to ward off evil.   Halloween in Ireland was celebrated differently than it is here.  To read about Irish Halloween’s in the early 20th century, look up the short story “Clay” from James Joyce’s Dubliners.

Somewhere in the new world, the turnip became a pumpkin, and the jack-o-lantern found its way into Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” with the star character, The Headless Horseman, choosing a carved pumpkin to replace his lost head.

Jack-o-lanterns and carved pumpkins are staples of the season, and have become more and more elaborate, but many still prefer the traditional faces made of triangles and circles.  Gourds of all types have become icons of Halloween and Thanksgiving, and there is a Midwest festival called “O Gourd-geous Day” that celebrates all the things one can do with them, including making dolls and other artifacts.

“This is a 75-pound pumpkin with two sweet pumpkins. I used a pumpkin carving kit, cordless drill, hammer and chisel.” Brian H. Troutdale, OR

“This is a 75-pound pumpkin with two sweet pumpkins. I used a pumpkin carving kit, cordless drill, hammer and chisel.” Brian H. Troutdale, OR

Pumpkins, real and fake, become heads for Halloween Décor dolls and for Scarecrows, popular fall cousins of dolls.   The Great Pumpkin renewed interest in pumpkin caring and décor, and the horror fill “Pumpkin Head” inspired doll figures; one life-sized one was once in the doll collection of Anne Rice.  Living Dead Dolls just put out Jack- O -Lantern, a new doll that picks up on the Jack legend.

Halloween’s origins are ancient, and Ray Bradbury does an excellent job of summarizing its history in The Halloween Tree. If you can find the book, get the animated film that Bradbury narrates.   In the world of the Ancient Celts, October 31st was the Samhain, pronounced “Sowin” which represented not only the Harvest, but the New Year when the veils between the mortal and spirit worlds parted, and the dead could walk the earth.  In Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries, the Calaveras or sugar skulls, icons of El Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead, celebrate the afterlife of those we love who have gone to the afterlife.  The Day of the Dead is celebrated all over the US and celebrations take place during November 1st and 2nd, All Saints and All Souls Days in the Catholic Church.  Other churches have similar celebrations, but they do not always take place during fall.

Harvest dolls and their cousins, pilgrim candles, Halloween figures, jack-o-lanterns and scarecrows evoke the world of Tasha Tudor and Pumpkin Moonshine, and remind us that ritual and tradition are important to all of us, child and adult, and that the dolls that are part of tradition have a history as old as the earth itself.

 

 

Farewell to Movie Legend Gene Wilder

John Wright

Farewell to a movie legend. Gene Wilder, an actor known for roles such as the title character in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, died on Monday, August 29, at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. He was 83. Here are some of our favorite photographs of this talented actor.

From R. John Wright:

He had a marvelous sense of humor which was actually a sense of life. We have been toying with the idea of doing a portrait doll of him in his iconic role as Willy Wonka and that was why we added ‘Charlie & the Chocolate Factory’ to the list of properties in our recent Warner Bros. contract update. Now it will be a homage.

R. John Wright Talks About the Creation of Edith, The Lonely Doll

John Wright

This interview by Patricia Hays, was originally published here: http://www.lenci-dolls.net/09162007.html

Patricia Hayes: What did you enjoy most about this project?

"The dress fabric was quite a challenge... It's all done with strips, not little individual pieces, but it requires absolute accuracy in sewing." - R. John Wright

"The dress fabric was quite a challenge... It's all done with strips, not little individual pieces, but it requires absolute accuracy in sewing." - R. John Wright

R. John Wright: So many people had requested that we do "The Lonely Doll" over the years that we enjoyed finally immersing ourselves in the project. We saw it as a homage to Dare Wright's creativity as well as that of the Lenci company.

PH: What were the some of the challenges in creating your Edith?

RJW: To make the Lonely Doll was an interesting project and kind've eerie to be going down the same path Lenci traveled. We did extensive work to get the head sculpt right. The original Edith was an earlier 109 which is slightly different, but we liked the more refined sculpt of the later ones so that is what this is based on. She's not an exact copy but rather an interpretation. We couldn't resist giving her molded ears which we thought would complement her earrings nicely.

The dress fabric was quite a challenge. First the colors needed to be established so the custom-made felt could be ordered. (Note: the felt is 100% wool and made mothproof and colorfast.) The shades are cut into long strips, sewn together in alternating colors and then flattened and cut again going the opposite direction into strips which are then sewn together in alternating rows to make the checkers. It's all done with strips, not little individual pieces, but it requires absolute accuracy in sewing.

After all the strips are sewn the fabric is very bulky and distorted like a thick blanket. It must be stretched, flattened and blocked in a heat press prior to cutting into pattern parts. We also decided to completely line the dress with organdy so it would go on easier and look finished inside. The closure is a zipper - just as on the original.

PH: How are the body and limbs constructed? What materials?

RJW:The entire doll is made of felt. The body/limbs are lined in muslin to prevent stretching during the stuffing process. We decided to design hands which resembled the original Edith mitten-style hands but this time with individually sewn fingers.

"The entire doll is made of felt. The body/limbs are lined in muslin to prevent stretching during the stuffing process." - R. John Wright

"The entire doll is made of felt. The body/limbs are lined in muslin to prevent stretching during the stuffing process." - R. John Wright

PH: Did you examine the original Edith ?

RJW: No, we haven't seen the original Edith in person. We really love the Edith character, but if you look carefully at the doll in the book, you gain a new appreciation for Dare Wright's photographic skills. The face of the doll itself is quite undermolded with very little definition and the wig is a very strange thing that she obviously cobbled together. The gingham dress is not particularly interesting. Therefore, we felt that our doll needed a bit more refinement in all the details so that it wouldn't disappoint when actually seen in person.


PH: Was Brook Ashley involved in the design process?

RJW: Brook, no, she was not involved at all in the design process. Although she very kindly supplied us with color photos of Edith as well as those of the two bears for use in the locket. The Lonely Doll book, of course, was studied intently.

John Wright with Dare Wright's Goddaughter, Brook Ashley

John Wright with Dare Wright's Goddaughter, Brook Ashley

PH: Anything else you would like to share about the development process?

RJW: We had a bit of a crisis after the prototype was completed when someone pointed out to us that the original Edith's eyes are blue rather than brown! We had no idea since most 109s we've seen have brown eyes. Of course you can't really tell in the B&W photos, but they looked quite dark to us . . . Anyway, her eyes have been changed accordingly and we actually like them much better than brown.

You can purchase an Edith the Lonely Doll at a special price by clicking the photo below.

 

 

 

40 Years Making Dolls | Dolls Dressed in Red

John Wright

Ellen Tsagaris is the resident RJW Design Journal guest blogger. She has collected dolls since she was three years old. She has made dolls, priced dolls, repaired, dressed, and studied dolls and her blogging work can be found on the doll collecting section of about.com and on her personal doll blogs, Doll Museum, and Dr. E's Doll Museum blog. Ellen is a fan and collector of R. John Wright dolls and we were fortunate to have her guest blog for us about RJW's 40th Anniversary and the color red.

As we his fans know, 2016 celebrates R. John Wright’s 40th year making dolls.  Beginning in 1976, the year of The Bicentennial, RJW has been creating unique and beautiful dolls for doll collectors and art lovers alike. 

The traditional gift for a 40th Anniversary Celebration is a ruby. Therefore, let’s talk about dolls dressed in red, dolls from India whence rubies come, and patriotic dolls in red, white, and blue.

The story of red riding hood is known in many countries, with the most familiar version that compiled by The Brothers Grimm.   In Spain, for example, she is Caperucita Roja.

Photo courtesy Ruby Lane

Photo courtesy Ruby Lane

Dolls of all types have been dressed as the red-caped one, and a few represent the wolf and Grandma, too!  Topsy-turvy multi-faced dolls representing all three were popular during the 70s.  Storybook dolls of all kinds, Nancy Ann, Madame Alexander, Gas Station Dolls and more also wore the red cape.

Asian dolls often wear beautiful clothes of red silk, especially bride dolls from China. Japanese dolls of cloth and wire that represent Kabuki Theater actors often wear gorgeous kimonos in red print.

Who among us doll collectors doesn’t have at least one Dorothy dolls from The Wizard of Oz wearing the famous ruby slippers.  Below is R. John Wright’s superb portrait of Dorothy wearing her famous shoes. I recently saw a museum exhibit devoted to The Wizard of Oz that included a pair of the slippers from the film as well as other dolls and figures that wore them.  I confess I have an adult version that I bought in Spain.

 

Christmas dolls like RJW’s Ginger the mouse often sport red outfits, as do Santas and other holiday figures. Red is a great color for antique dolls; it sets off their often pale complexions and is a wonderful color in red silk and red velvet.

American Cloth Portrait Doll of George Washington in Original Costume by Martha Chase via Theriault's

American Cloth Portrait Doll of George Washington in Original Costume by Martha Chase via Theriault's

Red is also the color of bravery, and many countries, including the United States, incorporate red in the colors of their flags and regalia.  In 1976, many patriotic and historical dolls were made to celebrate the 200th birthday of the United States.  One of the larger patriotic dolls in my collection came from a gift shop in The Union Oyster House, Boston. 

Forty years creating dolls makes one a legend.  RJW is certainly that and more. Many More Happy Years, and I hope we’re all here to read the post I write to celebrate 80 years of doll making by RJW!

An adorable little boy named "Winter" is the second issue in the "Four Seasons" series of toddler dolls dressed in vintage-style children's clothing.

An adorable little boy named "Winter" is the second issue in the "Four Seasons" series of toddler dolls dressed in vintage-style children's clothing.

Tasha Tudor and Her Corgis

John Wright

Tasha Tudor loved corgis - a short-legged Welsh herding dog. The love of this breed would also lead to inspiring some of her books. Her fascination and love of the breed began with a trip to England with her son Thomas, who bought one of the dogs before attending boarding school and since then she has owned as many as thirteen or fourteen at a time. In 1971, she published Corgiville Fair, which she said was her favorite book. She went on to add sequels, The Great Corgiville Kidnapping and her last book, The Corgiville Christmas in 2003. Here are some of our favorite photos featuring Tasha Tudor and her corgis.

These two characters are featured in Tasha Tudor's very first book 'Pumpkin Moonshine.' Four other little books followed in the 'Calico Books' series. This was Tasha's first big success as an author and illustrator. 'Pumpkin Moonshine' was published by Oxford University Press in 1938.

These two characters are featured in Tasha Tudor's very first book 'Pumpkin Moonshine.' Four other little books followed in the 'Calico Books' series. This was Tasha's first big success as an author and illustrator. 'Pumpkin Moonshine' was published by Oxford University Press in 1938.