Meet the Artist: Forlorn Dolls

Crafty Goodness is very excited to be featuring a Forlorn Doll Trunk Show at our Halloween Spooktacular on October 22nd. Each amazing hand-sculpted doll takes between 20-40 hours to create. All the clothing is hand-sewn as well. The maker of these amazing art dolls considers herself "Lakewood obsessed" and not only lives in Lakewood but also attended college right here at Virginia Marti. She cites the "history, the architecture, the arts and community events have wrapped around us like a cozy blanket. The kind of blanket most people search their whole lives for. It's called home."

On to the interview...

Who is Forlorn Dolls?
I grew up in a home which nurtured my love of the arts. My oldest brother, Jeff, is a digital artist. And when we were younger he was always painting on the garage door and basement walls. His creativity later helped create the infamous dancing baby who sashayed its way onto Ally McBeal. You could say my parents encouraged us to be creative. In fact, unlike most parents mine wanted an artist in the family. I wanted to go into criminal justice. But my mom would smile down at me and say, "You could be a court sketch artist!"

When it came time to select colleges I had finally settled on Art. And my high school art instructors Sean Crum and Jim Messenheimer had worked to prepare me for the future. I had been accepted to the Columbus College of Art and Design and the Cleveland Institute of Art, but even with the scholarships I received the expenses of these institutions were just too much. So I attended Lorain County Community College beginning my studies in Fine Arts under the classic teachings of Reid Wood. Oddly enough, I made my very first sculpted doll in the LCCC Fine Arts program. It was a project I absolutely hated. But I still have the doll and he is staple in my studio. I went on to study Graphic Design under Dennis Ryan before I transferred to the Virginia Marti College of Art and Design in Lakewood to switch my studies to Fashion Merchandising. There were two courses which I feel lend so much to what I am doing now that were both taught by Barb Havranek: Textiles and History of Costume. If it wasn't for Barb I think I would be so lost in costuming the dolls.

I would say throughout my educated life I had five great influences which really have stuck with me. Each of the instructors I had brought something different to the arena which I have been able to retain and meld together with my own ideals to harness the Forlorn Doll style.

Your dolls are really amazing. How did you start creating them?

How I started making the dolls is actually a funny story, in a slightly creepy way. I have to admit first, that for several years I had actually abandoned art after I graduated college. I had felt burnt out and uninspired. Very lost. There was no direction.

My husband and I went to Salem, Massachusetts for our honeymoon two years ago. The morning following a weird paranormal incident which occurred during an evening walking tour we decided to cross over Boston to the home of the infamous Lizzie Borden. This was the house in which the gruesome axe murders of Lizzie's parents took place. It would be a change of pace from the busy tourist attractions in Salem, and a chance for our GPS to recoup from its demonic possession at the Salem graveyard. We arrived... it was cold, dreary and rainy; all the classic workings for a haunted tour.

From the street outside, the Borden house stands quite charming and serene. Inside as well it feels the same way. It's beautifully decorated, well-maintained and dutifully run by a exuberant young woman who takes visitors on an in depth tour of the home and its dark seedy past. What we never expected to see while there, however, was Lizzie Borden eighty-four years after she had passed.

It was in the old barn/shed, which now serves as the gift shop and ticket office for the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast that I saw her. I had been peeking around at merchandise while waiting for our tour to start. From the corner of my eye something unique and quite peculiar struck my attention. I didn't react instantly. In fact I hesitated a bit. I even turned to my husband and whispered to him about what I was seeing. I felt myself even grow anxious about it, overcome with curiosity and and assortment of other emotions I could not define in that moment. Finally, I approached the clerk's counter to get a closer look. Perched quietly and quite delicately like a lingering ghost from the past was this exquisitely handcrafted doll in the likeness of Lizzie Borden. She was so unusual and so beautiful.

Up until that point I had no interest in dolls, but I ask the merchant about her and how much to purchase the doll. Sadly, I was informed the Lizzie doll was not for sale but the clerk did explain she was a one of a kind art doll created by Joyce Stahl.

We had brought a laptop with us, so when we returned to our hotel that night I instantly went into research mode. I looked up Joyce Stahl's dolls online which parlayed into other doll artists. I had been inadvertently introduced to a new community I had never heard of before: Art Dolls. And of course there was so much terminology to be defined as well and a plethora of styles and mediums in which art dolls were constructed. When we returned home I jumped right into selecting the medium I felt would work best for my abilities and style and started combining everything I had learned from art and fashion into Forlorn Dolls.

In a weird little moment I had a little spark of direction where for so many years I felt lost an uninspired by art and even lost hope that I would ever find my way back into creating. And it's almost laughable, and people do laugh, when I say I was at a murder scene and that's where I found my inspiration. But I attribute finding that direction to Joyce Stahl. And at the beginning of this October we finally met face to face after a few months of emails, facebook and phone conversations and I was able to thank Joyce in person for being my inspiration.

To create something so amazing must take a long time, is it a long process?
This question always makes me laugh because when I first started making the dolls two years ago it was a very quick and painless process to make one doll. But as time has progressed and I have grown in my techniques (ie. improved my self taught sewing) it takes so much longer now. One full size doll, depending on the amount of detail just in the garments, can take between twenty and forty hours of work. The sewing is all hand done, no machines; so it is a very lengthy process.

What are you working on now?
I am working on many things at the moment. Aside from Halloween preparations, I have plans to start various projects which will include a series of Circus centered performers and fairytale themed characters like Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, but with the Forlorn twist. But next on my work bench is the Phantom of the Opera, a Victorian-styled alien, and a special large scale bridal pair which I started several months ago and had to put on hold while I was doing the summer shows. I have too many ideas running through my head at the moment and just not enough time to get started on them.

To see these amazing dolls in person and meet the artist, stop by Crafty Goodness on October 22nd. More information can be found here.

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