Memories of Childhood
Autumn seems to be crowded with memories. I am now far enough away from my childhood that many of the memories of my growing up in the fifties are unknown to the younger generation. My brother, sister and I were recently needling our mother about our food traditions. Our family, despite a rich tradition of excellent cooks and bakers, readily embraced the food innovations that followed the war. We decided that if we were to define our family's "soul food" it would probably be Wonder Bread, Spam, Velveeta and Bosco.
But thinking about the consumer products of our childhood led us to talk about the mementos of our childhood. Like my mother's Blue Dress. The Blue Dress was a Christmas gift my father bought for her in a size 4 because he described her to the clerk as petite and delicate - my mother could barely have fit her size 10 thigh into that dress, but she treasured it for all that it represented as a gift from my father who saw her through the eyes of love. My mom would take out that dress every Christmas Eve and spread it out on the bed, as if to wear it and we kids would go into their room to touch it and to oohh and ahhh over it.
Why is it that the objects of our childhood seem to become the touchstones of our history? I remember the dolls that were so much a part of my life: my delicate little 8" Betsy McCall with the oh, so fragile knees; Ginny, who is as much a part of my life today as she was then; my Patti Playpal doll and ever so many others.
But even more I remember the dolls I coveted from afar: the black Amosandra that rested untouched in a buggy in my older cousin's bedroom; the Lissy and her trunk filled with wonderful clothes that belonged to my best friend, Diane; the exquisite miniature scene from Great Expectations that I saw in a doll museum. What is it about unfulfilled yearning that is so exquisitely sweet?
I often think of the dolls we make for collectors all over the world, wondering if each doll is bringing enjoyment and satisfaction to their owners. I also think of the children who may secretly look on those dolls with longing. Will the children of your family someday remember the dolls in your collection as the touchstones of their childhood?
J. M. Barrie said, "God gave us memories that we might have roses in December". Here's wishing you the kind of autumn of which memories are made.
New Year’s Resolutions
Another year draws to a close. Winter is a good time for reflection since the pace slows and the weather encourages us to ferret out a warm fire and a good book. When I was a child, I'd always buy a new notebook at the end of the year so that I could write my New Year's resolutions. I intended to keep a journal thoughout the year to mark my progress. My life is littered with notebooks that have only three or four pages used in the front.
I've always had the best intentions, but reality and old habits would soon overcome the loftiest goals. Forever the optimist, when the new year rolled around, I'd buy another notebook and struggle to come up with new resolutions. To this day my friend and partner, Linda, will roll her eyes when I say something like, "Next year I am going to have the new line designed by August."
A few years ago, I made the most amazing discovery. As Anne of Green Gables was told, "Tomorrow is a fresh day with no mistakes in it." Renewal comes with each morning, not just each January first. I've even found a mini-renewal each evening when dinner dishes are done, the kitchen tidy and the family busily engaged in homework, reading or television viewing. An unredeemed block of three or four pristine hours stretches out before me - another time to start over.
So as the 1997 is ready to give way to 1998, we revel in a fresh slate, a new opportunity. Will I write New Year's Resolutions? Of course. It is part of who I am. One of my life philosophies comes from Socrates- "The unexamined life is not worth living." Will I be fill defeated when I don't live up to my lofty goals. Of course not. I'm also a realist.
I will revel in the discovery that each day brings its own renewal. I will try to enjoy the gifts that God sends our way. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, " The days come and go like muffled and veiled figures sent from a distant friendly party, but they say nothing, and if we do not use the gifts they bring, they carry them as silently away."
I'm hoping that a spirit of renewal marks this season for you and that you embrace the gifts of each new day. But for now, I am on my way to buy another notebook to begin the new year.
As soon as the weather begins to cool and the last leaf has been raked, our thoughts turn to the holiday season. When I was young, we were never sorry for Thanksgiving to end because that meant that soon we would take our annual trek to Union Square in downtown San Francisco to see the unveiling of the Christmas windows at the White House and the Emporium. These days, however, Christmas decorations and Halloween pumpkins seem to vie for attention. Is it just commercialism that makes us stretch our holiday seasons or is there something else at work?
Celebration is woven into the tapestry of our being. There is not a culture on earth who doesn't savor their traditions. Celebration links us to the customs and memories of our collective culture. But...there is more to it than that.
Memory figures in our love of Christmas. With our busy lives, we rarely take time to think about our childhood, the times when our children were small, or the days when we still had our grandparents. Christmas is that touchstone that helps us mark the seasons of our life. Once each year, we pause and we remember.
Another reason we stretch the holiday season is that it has become a rich, sensory time for us. As we hurry through our lives, we have too little time to enjoy our homes and our families. During the Christmas season, we gather fragrant greens, brew rich ciders, spend hours baking confections, and plan sumptuous dinners. Those of us who love dolls bring out our favorites, and arrange them in Christmas scenes. We set aside time for our families and time for our friends. It's no wonder we eagerly anticipate the season and hate to let it go.
Even more than just family and friends, there is that part of us that longs to be connected to something greater. The story of God coming down to earth as a baby is mysterious and wonderful - something to ponder. Of course you may be like the woman that C. S. Lewis told about in a letter:
My brother heard a woman on a 'bus say, as the 'bus passed a church with a Crib outside it, "Oh Lor'! They bring religion into everything. Look-they're dragging it even into Christmas now!"
Whatever your cup of Christmas tea... have a memorable season. And don't be afraid to drag a little wonder into the celebration.
Dollmaking: Art or Craft?
"Fine art is that in which the hand, the head and the heart of a man go together." -John Ruskin
"So, is dollmaking art or craft?"
No other question has engaged the dollmaking and doll collecting community with vigorous debate over such a long time. Up until the late seventies, doll collectors collected mostly antique dolls. These were appreciated for their beauty and for their cultural significance.
With the rebirth of dollmaking in the early eighties, collectors began seriously looking at contemporary artist dolls. In the 1992 book, The Art of the Doll, published by the National Institute of American Doll Artists, editor, Krystyna Poray Goddu says, "Dolls have a long and splendid tradition as playthings. Often a child's first toy, a doll can evoke an emotional response and inspire a child/doll relationship that has long been regarded as an important element in a person's emotional and social growth. But in the hands of a talented maker with an artistic vision, dolls are also an art form."
The American Heritage Dictionary defines vision as "unusual competence in discernment or perception; intelligent foresight." That intelligent foresight with discernment or perception is, simply put, the marriage of head and heart - the intellect and the emotions. So Ms. Goddu makes the same observation as Ruskin. She sees dolls as art when the vision - head and the heart combine with artistic hands.
In the past, I've argued that it doesn't matter what we call a doll. Whether it is an art form or a plaything, it makes little matter to those of us who love dolls. But as I've continued to create dolls - now many hundreds of original designs - contemplating the process of creation is intriguing.
Ruskin's three elements - the hand, the head and the heart - are certainly present in each doll. The hand is the skill and craftsmanship. We've been making dolls for almost twenty years and the intricacies of our craft never cease to amaze me. Little things-like the fact that the porcelain shrinks as moisture and impurities are fired out and yet every tiny detail including the fingerprints of the dollmaker remain intact-unbelievable.
And the head is involved in the concept, the idea behind each doll. Despite having more work than I can ever complete in one lifetime, I'm still a voracious reader. Why? If I don't keep filling the receptacle of my mind, the creative well will run dry.
But what about the heart? Can a dollmaker be a consummate technician and a brilliant idea person without the heart connection? I don't know the answer, but I suspect not. When I look at the dolls I love, I know that the dollmaker is passionate about his or her work. Without the emotion of the artist, I think it is difficult for a real connection to ever be made between doll and collector. I've seen work that is beautiful in an aloof, distant way, but I wonder if it ever becomes a cherished treasure to the one who buys it.
So, is dollmaking art or craft? I don't know, but it's sure interesting to consider, isn't it?
See You on the Web
We doll enthusiasts tend to love all things natural and handmade, from the sheen of a complex wild silk to the smoothness of finely vitrified porcelain. We treasure those objects displaying the gentle patina of age. Heirlooms make our hearts flutter, right? I’m guessing many of you are nodding in agreement.
So what’s making my heart flutter these days? You may find this difficult to believe, but I’m enthusiastic about 21st century technology. Putting the heirlooms and treasures aside for the moment, I’m enthusiastic about terms like HTML, URLs and MetaTags. No, Lawtons is not going into a new business. We are preparing to launch our Lawton Web pages and I’m jazzed about the possibilities.
We’ve been working long days to pull together answers to all the questions you’ve ever asked and rolling the information into a huge Web site. For instance, have you ever come across an unfamiliar doll with that unmistakable Lawton look? LawtonDolls.com will offer complete archives, featuring every doll ever issued by the Lawton Doll Company; including one-of-a-kinds, prototypes that never made it to production, dolls created before the company was formally chartered, the Cottage Collection, the Ashton-Drake dolls, the Schmid dolls, and more. LawtonDolls.com will have a search engine so when you type in the name of a doll, you’ll be taken directly to that archive. Dolls, descriptions, year issued, edition size—all will be at your fingertips with the click of a mouse.
We will have a “What’s New” department. The moment I finish a midyear design—say for Walt Disney World—we’ll scan the photos and put them on LawtonDolls.com immediately. There’ll be no waiting for the next Quarterly. Not only that, our webmaster, Teena Stewart, will have photos of the brand new line ready to be uploaded the moment doors open on the first day of Toy Fair.
You’ll be able to browse online catalogs of both the current Lawton Connoisseur Collection and the Lawton Gallery Editions. You’ll also be able to use the Web site to send e-mail to Lawton Customer Service, to the Lawton Collectors Guild or directly to me.
We will have an event calendar, so you can keep up with events, appearances and QVC show times. You’ll be able to read about the company—our goals, our hopes and our dreams. You can also find out tidbits about the artist behind The Lawton Doll Company. (That’s me.)
Since Lawton Collectors understand that half the fun of doll collecting is networking with other collectors, we’ll also be offering The Lawton Loop—an e-mail listserv. You may not be familiar with listservs, but they are an ongoing discussion group by e-mail—simple to use. Collectors subscribe (free, of course) directly from the Web site. Once subscribed, when you send an e-mail to the group, a copy of that message goes to every collector subscribed on the Loop. It will be like an ongoing collector event happening right on your computer. I’m looking forward to being the moderator of the Loop and may occasionally suggest topics of conversation or even initiate trivia contest for Loop members. We’ll talk dolls and I’ll be able to solicit feedback and ideas. I’m excited about this new Lawton cyber-community.
So while it may not have the pristine beauty of hand-knotted lace, LawtonDolls.com may make our collecting that much more fun. See you on the Web.
Click the Join button to subscribe to The Lawton Loop-- an active e-mail discussion group of Lawton Collectors.
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The Lawton Doll Company
Post Office Box 1227
Hilmar, CA 95324
Phone 209 632-3655
Fax: 209 632-6788
info @ lawtondolls.com