My grandmother was prolific doll maker for nearly 30 years, she started making porcelain replicas of antique dolls around the mid 70’s and sold them at doll shows all over the United States until 2002. Her name was Mary Jane Becker, but in the doll world she went by her nickname Peppie. Her studio was in the basement of my grandparent’s house in Illinois, which was finished and divided up into individual rooms with heavy curtains hanging in the doorways. One room housed the kilns, and the other rooms were lined with shelves filled with the newly fired heads, legs, arms and torsos, glass eyes and wigs of every color, and a myriad of other parts and pieces, all neatly arranged and amazing to behold. The spare bedroom upstairs had racks of doll clothes that she and my aunt had sewn together, each a work of art in its own right. I would watch my grandmother move through the entire doll making process of mixing and pouring the porcelain into the molds, firing the parts in various kilns, and then the painting and assembly. Watching her paint the faces was my favorite part, the brushes were so tiny, a scant number of hairs clamped in a metal barrel that was secured to a splinter of wood, and her hand was as steady as stone, her focus fixed on the face as she painted the finest of lines across a pristine surface without a single hesitation, all while maintaining a conversation with me.
I was fortunate enough to receive a few dolls as gifts when I was growing up, and was recently inspired to include some of them in the sketches I’ve been working on as I am gaining familiarity with the materials I will use in forth coming compositions. They lend themselves beautifully to 2-dimensional graphite rendering, making it hard for me to focus in the materials I had originally intended to study. This doll is my favorite: