Remember the days when we would beg a shoebox off our mom and create a tiny world inside? Mine used to consist of people cut out from the Montgomery Ward Catalog, rugs and draperies made from materials in the scrap bag, and furniture of construction paper and pipe cleaners.
Once, my sister and I created our version of the entire interior of the White House in the sandbox belonging to our little brother and sister. We had a National Geographic magazine that featured Jackie Kennedy giving a pictorial tour of the newly refurbished White House as our guide. Our Barbies and Kens had so much fun in those hallowed sand halls until a neighborhood cat came and left what one could consider an ugly political statement. Our efforts were lost, but the experience remains my most vivid memory of childhood play.
In his book, Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis, best-known for the world he created in his Narnia Chronicles, tells of the miniature pretend garden he and his brother Warren constructed in the lid of an old biscuit tin, covered with moss and garnished with twigs. That garden colored many of Lewis’ writings and was perhaps the very first “world” he ever created.
Creating worlds may be a big order, but there is nothing like stepping into a miniature scene to whet the imagination. This summer at the United Federation of Doll Clubs, several Lawton collectors took their Lawton dolls as characters --sometimes redressing them and sometimes not-- and created stunning tableaux to house them. These mini-theatre sets were the talk of UFDC. The scenes invited the viewer into another place and another time-- like a Dickens’ Christmas or a concert of musical nine-inch instrumentalists, a maypole dance, a schoolroom, a campground or even the wilds of a Texas ranch. These vignettes shared a sense of miniature realism and a fairy like aura to them.
UFDC has created a professional tape that includes some of these scenes. It’s called UFDC Convention 2002 Denver: Special Exhibits & Lawton Gathering. If you are interested in obtaining one of these tapes, please contact Rachel McDowell at the UFDC office at 816 891-7040. The cost for the tape is $25.00, plus $5.00 for shipping.
To share some of the magic of these miniature worlds, we’ve added a few photos inside this issue of the Quarterly and we’ve set up a gallery of photos on our website at www.LawtonDolls.com. Click on “Tableaux” and enter an enchanted place.
My childhood sandbox White House may be the first unforgettable pretend world of my lifetime, but as I walked though the ballroom at UFDC and experienced the magic of those assembled tableaux, I knew our collectors had created an entire roomful of never-to-be-forgotten worlds. Deepest thanks to all the skilled Lawton collectors who created these masterpieces.
Joy in the Journey
This has been my year for travel. I’ve seen legions of Lawton collectors over the past few months. Even though it is already autumn, I still have six more shows that will cover the country from California to Idaho to Oregon to Washington to Florida to Texas to Oklahoma and all the way back out to Florida again.
I used to have such trouble with travel despite the fact that I crisscrossed the United States several times each year. I’ve stayed in homey bed & breakfast inns, century-old rooming houses, nondescript motels, the Plaza in New York City and even the romantic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. I’ve bunked in a rustic cabin and camped on a Sierra trail. There is one common denominator to each travel experience--I always dreaded going.
Even though I loved the idea of travel and looked forward to seeing friends or meeting collectors, I hated the act of leaving. I was like the sea snail, firmly anchored to a familiar rock. I couldn’t bear the thought of venturing away from the safety of my granite nest until...thwack! The suction was forcibly broken and I was on my way to another adventure. I identified with the Old Testament prophet, Jonah. My travel destinations often had a Ninevah-like appeal on the eve of departure.
I don’t know what happened to change my reluctance to travel, but over the years dread turned to acceptance and eventually acceptance gave way to delight. I now find myself looking forward to hitting the road.
I’m finding others having fun with travel as well. I’ll never forget Alaska Airlines Flight 594 on August 17, 1997. The plane was packed on an early morning flight from Seattle to Spokane. As we began to taxi, the flight attendants took their places in the aisle to run through the requisite safety instructions. Most passengers continued talking or reading.
“If oxygen is needed during the flight,” the voice on the speaker said, “the masks will drop from the overhead compartment. If traveling with a small child, secure your mask first before helping to secure theirs.” The attendants demonstrated the masks. “If you are traveling with several children, we recommend that you help them in order of preference. Your favorite child first and then on down the line.” Several passengers looked up from their newspapers.
“Once your mask is secured, you can scream as frantically as you wish into the mask. Oxygen will still be flowing, even if the bag does not appear to inflate.” The cabin had snapped to attention and most passengers were chuckling by now.
“Smoking is prohibited on this flight.” She went on, ”Alaska understands that this is difficult for many of you and has arranged special al fresco seating on each of the wings for our smokers. In addition, we will be offering a special screening of ‘Gone with the Wind’ for the smoking section.” It was the first time, in all my travel that laughter and applause followed the safety demonstration.
In the last year, much has happened to weight us down with worry again. I like to recall the playfulness of that Alaska flight crew and I continue to choose to find joy in my journey. I trust you are still finding ways to take joy. “The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy.” --Guido di Pietro “Fra Angelico”
And I look forward to seeing you on my travels.
The Kiss of History
A collector called Lawtons the other day asking what to do about a dress that seemed faded. We know that sometimes raw silks and natural dyes fade over time—which is why we always put the gentle caution note into the box “keep out of direct sunlight.”
Anna took the call and came to me afterward. The doll was from several years back and Anna knew it was impossible to replace the dress. “What do I say in a case like this?” she asked.
I hemmed and hawed at first. We are so committed to “making it right” that a situation like this poses our toughest challenge. What I really wanted to tell the collector was that fading is simply the kiss of history on the doll—it’s a sign that the doll is on her way to becoming real. It’s just hard to explain what I meant in a quick phone call.
So what do I mean by the kiss of history?
Many people equate newness with value. Not me. To my eye it takes time for things to settle in and become really beautiful. I learned this lesson from those collectors who really play with their dolls. When I see those dolls—Lilliputian characters who now have their own names like Alexandria, Tabitha, Tessa, Kathleen, Triona, Megan—nothing is so beautiful to my eyes. The more human hands touch their wood, the more beautiful it becomes. The more hair is arranged, the better it settles into the doll.
I read of one interior designer who never put a new piece of furniture directly into a home. She always threw a sheet of clear plastic over the upholstered pieces and let them sit outdoors until they lost that “look at me” newness. Only then did she know the piece would settle nicely into a home.
Many collectors treasure mint-in-box condition and that’s certainly one way to collect—to be a curator of beautiful things. That’s not for me. I want to treasure my things and use them, letting them become a part of my life. I used to get worried about the spines of my books, for instance, because I don’t have enough sunless walls. Those spines, slowly sunning, were making me crazy; I even thought of packing away my books. One day it dawned on me—I love my books. I want them out where I can use them. I decided that the sunned spines would be the outward sign that my books were part of my life.
I even went further—I started writing in my books after I read a passage in one of C. S. Lewis’ letters: “To enjoy a book…I find I have to treat it as sort of a hobby and set about it seriously. I begin by making a map on one of the endleafs; then I put in a genealogical tree or two; then I put a running headline at the top of each page; finally I index at the end of all the passages I have for some reason underlined. I often wonder—considering how people enjoy themselves developing photos or making scrapbooks—why so few people make a hobby of their reading this way. Many an otherwise dull book which I had to read have I enjoyed in this way, with a fine-nibbed pen in my hand: one is making something all the time and a book so read acquires the charm of a toy without losing that of a book.”
Now I find I seek out books that have been well marked by their previous owners. It’s the sign of a treasured book. Well-loved dolls possess the same patina. They’ve lost that pristine newness and become sort of gently dappled. The poem, “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, says it best for me.
Glory be to God for dappled things-
For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow;
For rose moles in all stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut falls; finches wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim:
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Can you see why it was hard for me to explain this to Anna so she could pass it on to our concerned collector? When I see a doll like the beloved, well aged Hitty, tucked in her case at the Stockbridge Library, I wish I had a name for the phenomenon. Call it the gentle patina of age, call it delicate dappling, call it the kiss of history—but whatever we name it, the Velveteen Rabbit would tell us that it is on its way to becoming real.
Back to our Roots
2002 marks a return to our roots. As I think about my twenty-two years making dolls, I can see the different eras.
I began by being totally hands on—I did it all in those days, including billing customers and mail merging letters. I cared about everything that came out of our company even down to the alignment of the stamps on the envelopes. I designed our “look”, our publicity, the dolls, even the space we occupied.
As the demand out-stripped our ability to do it all, we decided to grow. We took on partners and I learned to let go of things. Actually, most things were forcibly pried out of my stubbornly clenched fingers.
Our partners were gifted in “taking the business to the next level”. We moved to several “next levels”, usually with me kicking and screaming. We tried things like expanding to hit emerging markets like Ashton Drake and QVC. We moved from my homey way of doing promotional literature (like postcards) to a more polished, professional look (like our slick catalog). We grew bigger and increased edition sizes.
Lawtons bought the Vogue Doll Company in 1995 and ran both companies. Two years ago, we decided to split the two companies with our partners taking Vogue and Keith and I keeping Lawtons. It went back to being solely my own baby again, though it’s taken some time to realize it.
Picture those fingers tightening over the business again. I realized that several decisions that had been made were outside my comfort zone—all the “next level” stuff. I like being small. I’m comfortable with homey. Slick makes me nervous.
In some ways I feel as if we violated our brand. Our tagline has always been “In a world of change, quality endures.” We shouldn’t have to change to meet the world if we still make quality our byword. That’s not to say we haven’t always aimed for quality. But there’s no way to hit popular price (like our imported Gallery dolls) and exquisite quality at the same time.
All that to say this:
We are going back to our roots, where small is by choice and there is no “next level”.
We’ve had two wonderful sales years. We won’t be making 2001 dolls until spring. We’re blessed in an economy like ours to have more orders than we can comfortably get out in a year. But, it doesn’t mean we need to get bigger. We think that if we concentrate on quality, collectors will be patient. We’ve had some rough patches, but they are almost all smoothed out.
We’re also blessed to have the same group of dollmakers who’ve been with us forever. When we needed extra help to make UFDC happen, we were able to get Velma and Rosario to come back. Suzi left to try out her wings late last year and missed us so much, she’s back. And JoAnn’s little boys are big enough to spare her for a few hours a day, so we’re enjoying her deft artwork again. Part of our love of “roots” is tied up in our Lawton dollmaking family.
We’re concentrating on content in our promotional materials (like the Quarterly) and saving money on image. Some of the saved money will go to bringing back my old favorites—postcards—instead of the slick catalogs. I’m going to curtail the ad budget for slick full-page ads and spend more time, money and energy getting out there and enjoying our collectors.
We’re discontinuing the Gallery Editions. We still have a limited number of dolls in the warehouse, but when they are gone, they are gone. Except for some of the Emporium things, an accessory here or there or wooden bodies, Made in America is all we’ll offer—no apologies for the price. Our only customer will be the Connoisseur collector. The dolls will either sell or they won’t. We’ve found that our collectors would rather buy one superb doll than an armload of popular-priced dolls. Took us long enough to learn that lesson, didn’t it?
That’s not to say that I won’t someday try making a play-able doll for children—that has always been something I’ve wanted to try—but for now, we are going to allow our trademark quality to endure in the changing world.
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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