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Bennington, VT, 05201
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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. 


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. 

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:

Top 5 Challenges Creating The Wicked Witch of the West by R. John Wright

John Wright

Blog by R. John Wright

Blog by R. John Wright

1. The first challenge was sculpting the face so that it not only looked like Margaret Hamilton but could also be molded out of felt. The molding was very challenging due to the undercuts and contours of the face which clearly show in the profile. We actually had to make 3 metal molds before we got one that gave us the desired result. Along with the Queen of Hearts, this is one of the most difficult molding projects we have ever attempted.

2. Another big challenge was the sculpting and molding of the hands. One hand holds the broom which required an inner bar inside the mold that each of the fingers were wrapped around. We had never attempted this type of hand before and it called for a completely new approach. The other hand was no less challenging with its curled fingers and pointing index finger.

3. The nails on the hands were also something we'd never tried before. Each tiny nail had to be individually cut, curved, and applied to each fingertip—ten nails per doll!  Then, each hand was given a 'manicure' whereby the nails were carefully painted with a deathly green lacquer. Thank goodness she didn't have toenails too!

4. The Witch's broom in itself was a challenge because we wanted it to be authentic in every way. First, we needed to find a company who could turn the handles for us to our specifications. This was difficult since the handle is long and thin and had a tendency to shake and break on the lathe. We finally found a workshop in the US which had also turned a similarly long and thin replica of Harry Potter's wand!  The assembly with leather lattice work, sewn straw and custom-made pewter rings also required several innovative procedures.

5. The original Witch's costume no longer exists—except for the hat. However, a top Wizard of Oz fan had a full-size replica of the Witch's gown which he generously loaned to us to study. Getting the drape right on the 1/4 scale of the doll was a serious challenge. Finding the right fabric - a black cotton tricot - was the key to getting there. They say the devil is in the details and we just had to include the 'sinister' slant built into the original Witch's hat, the interesting pocket book which hangs from her waist, and her fabric-covered high heel pumps which are only visible in one frame of the film. Each of these 3 items required their own extensive R&D.

All-in-all it was an extremely challenging project but one that we are very proud of. Both Susan and myself count the Wicked Witch of the West among our top favorites of all the dolls we have made in the course of our 40-year history. Now we are gearing up to do "Glinda." Talk about opposites!

R. John Wright's Top 5 Favorite Mice

John Wright

Since the first R. John Wright mouse in 2002, we have designed over 50 more mice. Each mouse design is different and many of them feature unique accessories. The total RJW mice produced totals over 10,000 which may explain why we began making cats! We love all our mice but of course we have personal favorites. Here are my top 5:

1. The Mouse Tailor

This Beatrix Potter piece was our first mouse and holds a special place in my heart. We initially planned on making the mouse out of felt and we sculpted the mouse with fur detail which would show up during the molding process. But Susan kept thinking of a beloved stuffed animal she had as a child of a sleeping kitten. The toy was covered with real rabbit hair which made it irresistible to pet! She wanted our mice to have that same tactile quality which only fur can give. So we rose to the challenge of making the mouse out of mohair plush instead. The techniques we learned established the look and feel of all the RJW mice to follow.

2. Annamarie & Fritz

These 2 mice are favorites for several reasons. The design is based on the charming art of Racey Helps (1913-1970) an English children's author and illustrator. His books were written in a simple style and feature immensely charming woodland creatures and birds. This "Winter" pair is the first in the "Mouse Seasons" series and they are named after our children's real-life honorary Grandparents - Annamarie and Fritz Zobel - German immigrants who knew everything about toys and Christmas.

3. Lady & Gentleman

This set of elegant mice are also from our Beatrix Potter series. They are pictured in Beatrix Potter's favorite book 'The Tailor of Gloucester.' We are especially proud of the clothing on this pair. The Lady mouse's dress features a custom-printed miniature pattern and she wears the tiniest blue silk high heel slippers on her feet. The Gentleman's jacket and tri-corn hat includes incredibly tiny gold braid trim. The mice pose very well and capture perfectly the stance of the mice in the original illustration.

4. Wizard of Oz

This set is one of our most ambitious in the entire mouse collection. As with all our mice, it is essential to keep the mouse from being overwhelmed with costuming. This was especially true here as we set out to outfit each mouse in the well-known movie costumes. In such a project what is not included becomes as important as what is included. There were many challenges along the way - such as weaving the tiny rectangular basket for Dorothy and figuring out the making of the tiniest Ruby Slippers.

5. The House that Mouse Built

This pair was made for a ticketed breakout event at our convention this year. It was inspired by the amazing rustic 'Mouse Houses' made in the scale of our mice by the local Dollhouse & Toy Musem of Vermont. What I like about this set is that the clothing is kept to a minimum but there is no feeling that anything has been left out. Mr. Mouse'swork apron features tiny tools and Mrs. Mouse holds a darling mouse baby. Life is good!

Honorary Mention:

6. (Honorable Mention) The Fairy Tale Mice

I can't resist including these mice as they are also among my top favorites. Each character has been portrayed perfectly without becoming too fussy. Even without titles it is apparent which classic fairy tale each is based on. As with the Oz collection there were unique challenges to overcome along the way such as Cinderella's tiny glass slippers or Hansel & Gretel's tiny gingerbread cookies. Now we are thinking of coming out with a 2nd Fairy Tale series. If you have any suggested stories you'd like us to include please let us know!

Your Friend,

R. John Wright

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 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.