How do you know? Countless works of literature and soppy love songs have been written about the presence of requited love (and unrequited love, drears!). Well relax, this isn’t the type of consummate love one might come to search an entire life for (yes, that’s correct – I did end a sentence with a preposition). But there is no denying ours is a world of the obsessive-compulsive (OCD) addict, with emotions running to the four winds when a doll envelopes us in its rapture (or its angry flame – more on that later). Getting kinda deep, right? Absolutely. Therein lies my first and foremost observation on why we, the doll people, love our dolls. Analyze it all you want; but at the end of the day, a relationship exists between collector and doll. And where does most of this begin?
Simply put, it’s an attraction. Let’s break it down, shall we?
Why do fools fall in love? Um…well, they’re fools for a start. But this doesn’t imply all who love are fools. We come to an internal agreement with ourselves that we are attracted to something or someone – we’ll assume for lack of academia in this observation that they are one in the same. Hell, if feminists can say Barbie has contributed to the sexual objectification of women, then so be it. But that’s not what this is about. This, my friends, is about that ephemeral moment that culminates into infatuation. You see, we’re all mad here…only the best people are. Example: You’ve just seen a doll image shared on the internet, or you’ve strolled past the horrific crocheted toilet paper covers at a craft show to see a doll artist’s booth, or you open the box of a brand new doll (mmm…new doll smell)…and that’s it – hook, line and sinker.
To understand how a piece of sculpture dressed in fiercely folded and draped fabric can create such an effect, let’s go through a brief lesson in doll anatomy:
The Anatomy of A Doll (creative license has been used generously)
Sculpt (Head) – Clay, wax, papier mâché, if it can be molded or manipulated, it’s sculpture. The ‘sculpt‘ term arrives as the base, but it means oh-so-much more. The head sculpt can make or break the doll, and it is often the first thing most collectors will notice (not to be confused with the face or eyes – similar, but different experiences – see below). The head sculpt sets the tone for the infatuation, the rhythm for the dance, the spice to the chili…you get my drift. This is one such area OCD comes into play – the placement of features given a sculpt by a particular artist’s style. And yes, there’s another little obsession – symmetry. One thing that can get many a collector into a meltdown is symmetry (or lack thereof) in sculpt. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find perfect symmetry in anything human, or as the case may be, the hand-crafted head sculpt. Computer-generated head sculpts…completely different, and in my opinion, just a little creepy in its perfection. To illustrate this, I’ll show a classic interpretation of symmetry and non-symmetry…you decide for yourself (see the bizarre results below). The sculpt is the architecture, and everything that follows is simply embellishment – if the sculpt is off, the embellishment will be, too. Such is the classic case of Sydney Chase by Robert Tonner – a hand-sculpted head, not perfectly symmetrical – which resulted in offset painting of the eyes, or ‘wonky eyes‘ as it came to pass. Man. Collectors can be really bitchy when it comes to eye paint.
Sculpt (Body) – a sculpture, yes…but the body differs from the head where the plant differs from the bloom. It matters greatly that a beautiful head sculpt can exist with a less-than-beautiful (or inappropriate) body sculpt. As an ideal, the body can represent many things, and often you will see dolls that come in various body shapes and types. But that is not the norm, particularly in the fashion doll arena where the body is a frame of which supports spectacular fashion. This is an expression of the artist that isn’t telling us we need to look like this…it merely states, ‘look at me.’ Selfish little minxes, those fashion dolls. Even the (almost) annual debate of Barbie’s body size cannot deny the one simple truth about the ideal fashion frame: you will notice it. Quite frankly, I am offended at the depiction of ‘plus-size’ Barbie – I know plenty of plus-size gals, and few of them are so grossly dramatized with double chins, inflated proportions, and a tacky little pink dress that is criminal in and of itself. You tell me, Cate LaBarre, what would help obese America more, Mattel producing a plus-size Barbie, or McDonald’s stop making ridiculously cheap, unhealthy food?
Points of Articulation – Basically this means how many movable joints the doll has. Forget baby dolls here, though they do exist. As dolls have evolved over time, and development of the doll has come face to face with technology, it is ultimately the material by which the doll is made that really affects the truest level of enduring articulation – that is, one that will last. Hard plastic…the only way to go, in my opinion, but who has $45,000+ to develop molds in advance of production? Better use resin, which only has one casting process, but finishing is tricky and labor is cheap in China…oh wait…it was. There will be plenty of time to discuss the debate of materials, kittens. In the meantime, let me assure you that there are sacrifices in ultra-articulation – and that is beauty in body sculpt, at least during this point in our affordable technology. Trade-offs for the discriminating…
Face – Face paint, face-up, artist’s vision…call it what you will…but in the end, it’s still make-up. The truly interesting fact about a doll’s face paint is how many emerging creatives discovered their inner artists by repainting dolls to improve the maquillage, correct a wonky eye, replace a faulty eyelash, or to create celebrities all-together. Noel Cruz states, “…Repaint is a new form of pop art, wherein the doll’s face is treated like a three dimensional canvas…” Yes, sweetie, and I know your work sells for hundreds…but let me remind you of one simple fact – that “three dimensional canvas” was sculpted by another artist…and your art would likely not live very long without the foundation already created for you. A little credit where credit is due, please. The difference between factory paint and one-of-a-kind is a teeny, tiny matter of labor dollars paid per doll. Art is still art…it’s the level of detail which separates it into varying degrees of complexity. Whew…that was a mouthful…basically, you get what you pay for. Cruz sells his work for a premium, and rightly so…but again, it has more to do with the ‘love‘ of the doll (or celebrity) than anything else.
Eyes – Inset, painted, acrylic, glass, changeable – the eyes are where it’s at; for a doll without life in its eyes has no soul. Yep, I actually said that. There’s really not much more to say about this at this time. If you can’t tell the difference, then you’re a walker. One of the reasons I sought Tonner as a place of creative employment was because his dolls had ‘life’ in the eyes…and that’s all I have to say about that.
Hair – Molded, rooted, wigged – can it be styled and re-styled? Natural or synthetic? To scale or not? These are the observations collectors make when looking at a fabulous mane of grooviness crowning a doll’s head. Well, that, and how much shit do they put into the hair to hold its style – and even moreso, how much washing do you have to do to get that shit out? We can’t all be Vidal Sassoon, but under Hell-fire, we’ll certainly try…
Feet – To a fashion doll collector, there’s only one – high-heeled foot. Within that realm, there is more importantly, how high? Whether it be an interchangeable foot, a realistically sculpted foot with all the nooks and crannies, or one molded to support severely thermal stilettos, the foot and its graceful arch will induce whimpers from even the most stoic.
Hands – Like feet, hands can invoke great debate amongst serious collectors. And how could they not? A simply beautiful hand that has every graceful intention is made to look like excrement in the face of a claw. You be the judge.
Skin – Silly rabbits…dolls don’t have skin…or do they? Basically this really refers to the material from which the doll is crafted. Hard plastic is durable and perfect for articulation, but it’s opaque and lifeless. Vinyl is flexible, but not rigid when needed (my dear, does that sound all too familiar!). Resin is luminous and rich, but heavy, toxic and requires much finishing. Cloth is great for children’s toys, and for unbelievable artistry in the right hands. The Franklin Mint tried to create a layer of vinyl as a skin over an articulated form, but the articulation wasn’t very good, and the points where the bending was visible were kinda creepy. Still, you gotta give ’em aces for trying. Porcelain is the grand deceiver – it is the cheapest thing to produce in a factory; however, when yielded by the hands of a talented artist, its beauty can be intoxicating.
Clothing – I’ve much to say on this subject, but suffice it to say for this part of our journey that the most expensive part of manufacturing most dolls is that of its clothing and accessories. Yes, that’s right…you’re being ripped off for the price of a basic doll (but there’s a good reason for that – one that keeps businesses in business, so get over it and do your part to help them, they have it tough enough these days, believe me).
Stuff – Not just clothes, sweetie…but jewelry, accessories, SHOES, cars, furniture, boyfriends…must I go on? If there is nothing about dolls you like, then let it be the STUFF you LOVE!
And thus, our thesis grows a little more defined…