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The Art of Doll-making
“A small-scale figure of a human being, used especially as a child’s plaything”
– Webster’s International Dictionary’s definition of a doll
Marina Lukanina

Tatiana Baeva, doll maker

olls have been a part of our collective culture since prehistoric times. The first dolls were found in Egyptian graves dating back to 2000 BC. Dolls placed in these graves led some to believe that they were cherished possessions.

In more recent times, Europe became a major hub for doll production. These dolls were primarily made of wood. An alternative to wood was developed in the 1800s. They are made of a mixture of pulped wood or paper that was used to make the dolls’ heads and bodies. Papier-mâché, was one of the most popular such mixtures. In addition to wooden dolls, wax dolls were popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. Munich was a major manufacturing centre for wax dolls, but some of the most distinctive wax dolls were created in England between 1850 and 1930. Porcelain became popular at the beginning of the 19th century. The French “bebe” was popular in the 1880s. The bebe, first made in the 1850s, was unique because it depicted a younger girl. Until then, most dolls represented adults.

Doll-making did not become an industry in the United States until after the Civil War in the 1860s. Doll production was concentrated in New England. Dolls were made from a variety of materials such as leather, rubber, papier-mâché, and cloth. Celluloid was developed in New Jersey in the late 1860s and was used to manufacture dolls until the mid-1950s. After World War II, doll-makers experimented with plastics. The first well-known American doll-maker was Ludwig Greiner in Philadelphia. He made papier-mâché dolls from the mid-1840s to around 1874.

Doll-making as an artistic activity started appeared in the 1950s in Europe. The artists started making exclusive dolls as a means of self-expression, the dolls were intended for avid collectors.

PASSPORT talked to Tatiana Baeva, one of the most famous Russian doll-making artists. Tatiana is a member of Artist Alliance of Russia, head of the Doll Artist Association of Moscow Artist Alliance and is also a member of the National Institute of American Doll Artists (NIADA), a worldwide organization of doll artists, supportive patrons, and friends whose purpose is to promote the art of original handmade dolls. Her dolls are part of many private collections around the world; seven of her dolls are part of Demi Moore’s collection.

How did you get into the art doll-making?

I graduated from an Art School called “Art School named after 1905”, as a Fine Art Restorer. I made my first doll collection in 1982 as a side interest from my other artistic endeavours. This was a new direction in that time, and there were no specific courses or supplies for doll-making. I had to experiment and play with different materials and techniques. Finally it became my true passion and devotion. Since the early 1990s, I have been focusing exclusively on doll-making. In 1992 I first went to Germany for the Global Doll Society Convention and won second prize there for my textile doll. I was amazed at the variety of materials used for doll making and how advanced everything was.

How do you define what an art doll is?

That is not as easy question, as there are so many styles and looks, the entire world is trying to define that. It could be oneof- a-kind or a limited edition which tries to please the viewer and be in a way one’s silent companion. Since such dolls are not for playing with, the word “doll” is being looked at as being misleading and diminishing their value. Sometimes the notion “figurative art” is used these days. I call my dolls “dressed sculptures”.

Lorenza, 15” (sitting),
Efaplast, 2010,
photo by Maxim Poluboyarinov

Gregory, 17 1/2”,
Efaplast, 2009,
photo by Maxim Poluboyarinov

How do you start to create your masterpieces?

I first sculpt and paint the dolls and then dress them up. I make the costumes and shoes myself as well. My main goal is to give each doll a specific character. I do not link my dolls to any particular epoch. The costume has a secondary meaning and only helps to reveal the doll’s character. If I make a Japanese woman, I don’t dress her up in a kimono cut the original way. Rather I build the image through silhouette and associations. I try to make the costume as less sophisticated as possible and usually end up with a lot more work to do. That is one of the reasons my dolls are not “easily read”. I once made a doll that looked Japanese but was dressed in black and I named her Carmen. To me this character is “nationality free” and could have existed in any country.

Every person sees different things in my dolls. Sometimes I am told about interpretations of my dolls that I hadn’t thought of when creating them.

Do you create series of dolls?

Sometimes. One of my favourite such series is devoted to cities—New York, Venice, Verona, St. Petersburg and Moscow. The New York doll, the first one in this series, was a real breakthrough for me in terms of approach. I was driving a car in New York when all of a sudden I “saw” an image of this doll. It ended up being a guy dressed up in a white suit with a panoramic city scene drawn over it, a subway map on his shirt and his cylinder hat resembled the city silhouette.

The Moscow doll has lots of windows in her costume. Ever since I was a child I was amazed by open Moscow windows. I would always imagine possible stories that were happening behind those windows. The St. Petersburg doll is a man playing cello and wearing an overcoat made up of a real map of Leningrad. In this series I again focused on my own associations that I had with these cities rather than trying to be historically correct. I love using subtle hints rather than concrete detail and then I add some illogical things to the characters. Demi Moore bought both Moscow and New York dolls.

St-Petersburg, 16” (sitting),
Efaplast, 1997,
photo by Oleg Kaplin

Moscow, 12”,
Premier, 2005,
photo by Tatiana Baeva

What does the Russian art doll world look like nowadays?

In Russia, art doll making started quite late compared to the West. The first big international doll exhibition happened in 1997 with only three Russian artists. It is very different now and you can see wonderful works of many talented artists at various doll shows and related events. There are several galleries that exhibit and sell art dolls. I cooperate with the Elena Gromova Gallery “Doll Collection”. This gallery offers doll making classes for people with different levels of interest.

What are you currently working on?

I am working on female characters, and my sculpting is almost done. So the next step is sanding and then painting. It seems like I have some vision and goals as it what it would look like, however, based on my experience it is too soon to talk about the details. Sometimes it feels like the doll is taking control over my plans, and steering my way. That is what makes this process so challenging and fun. I have just recently launched my own web-site, see:

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