Meet Katya!

May I introduce you to Katya—the doll—attached to her own little doll, Nadya.  Katya is the protagonist of both Red Stone and Broken Stone.  
The  doll workshop at the Forum Art Centre was so much fun. Can't understand why it wasn't sold out.  I think I'll use my leftover clay and try to make Zenta, Katya's shaggy black and white sheep dog. I'll see how that goes without the help of Helen my talented and inspiring instructor. (Helen, coincidentally is from Russia and has just survived her first Winnipeg winter!)  Here's my co-doll-maker, Judy, with her awesome weathered-looking gardener complete with shovel and a recycled letter carrier jacket. 

This morning I decided that Katya was still missing something and so I scrummaged around and found an old lace-edged handkerchief. It works perfect for her apron and kerchief, plus, the edging was crocheted by my mom or one of her sisters.

This is the first time I've ever tried something like this. For me character study always involved words. Now I've learned a teeny bit about character from an artist's perspective. The head, feet and hands are sculpted from clay, while the rest of the body is stuffed. This means Katya needs a stand to support herself which Helen's husband kindly offered to build for her. (Barbie can't stand on her own either.)

This Katya doll will accompany me on book signings. You can meet her in person at the Millennium Library on May 7th, at the Local Author Fair


I’m excited about a doll-making workshop I’m attending this Saturday.  Why would an adult like me—with grown children (and no grandchildren)—be interested in making a doll? I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s about connecting to my inner child. Or maybe it’s about connecting to my mother’s inner child. I’ve been quite focused on my mom’s childhood over the last ten years and the doll theme keeps recurring. (My character, Katya, in Red Stone has a disturbing relationship with a doll.) I find the concept of dolls and our connection to them fascinating.

Back when I was six or seven I remember sitting for a photo shoot. I think there were twenty-two dolls lined up around me. And yet none of them seemed special. They were all just part of a collection—my menagerie of dolls—with me in the middle.

A few years later I received a huge walking doll who’d wear my own toddler dresses. She too remained nameless. My mother seemed more enamored with her than I ever was. When I was ten and my parents were having a new house built, it was this doll that moved in before the rest of us. I put her into my future bedroom and she stayed there all alone until I finally moved in some months later. I don’t remember having an emotional connection to her. She was stiff and formal. Too nice to be a real friend. My mother saved this doll and gave it to my own daughters. She had a rough time in our house. Not enough respect and a dog who liked to chew. When she finally passed on, I was glad to be rid of her.

What I’d dearly wanted as a child, was a Cabbage Patch doll. Something I could cuddle and hug. Something that wouldn’t poke me with a stiff plastic arm in the middle of the night. But my mother disapproved of rag dolls. I’m not sure why. She called them wobbly. True. They were flabby and limp like the white bread I never got to eat in my school sandwiches. We were Germans who only ate hard, rye bread.  Instead, my well-intentioned parents got me a new baby doll that was just as hard and stiff as my unloved walking doll. This doll did have a little hole in its rosebud mouth and I would bottle-feed it water and let it wear tissue diapers. I don’t recall trying to feed it real milk, but I do remember making Pablum and pretending to feed her while spooning it into myself instead.

I knew my doll playing years were coming to an end when I started junior high. But it had taken me until then to convince my parents of my need for a Barbie doll. So at an age when my friends were snubbing their adolescent noses at doll-playing, I was just getting serious. Luckily I found a kindred soul and we’d meet on weekends and play dolls for hours upon hours.  In secret.

I didn’t have a real Barbie made by Mattel. I had her poor cousin, Mitzi, made by Reliable.  Instead of a long golden ponytail, Mitzi had a head of red curls. But she could wear anything that Barbie wore. My parents wouldn’t spend the money that a real Barbie cost. (Same thing with jeans. I never got real jeans—Lees or Levis—until I was old enough to buy my own.) Still, Mitzi (even without the proper pedigree) lived a full, dramatic life during my middle grade years. My friend and I would create incredible worlds for our young women dolls.  I’d borrow my brother’s GI Joe doll —a hunk of a man (plus, he had bendable hands)—while my friend had a Skipper with beautiful long, straight hair, and a Ken-like Allan doll. We had such fun with our homemade doll furniture, clothes, and wild imaginations.

Another type of doll I remember playing with were paper dolls. We’d make our own. These, like the Barbie-types, had beautiful clothes that we’d design with crayons or pencil crayons. I can still visualize some of the gowns I created. The beauty of paper dolls was that they didn’t take up much room and cost next to nothing to make.

We crafted elaborate stories for our young adult dolls—love stories, mysteries—complicated plots filled with intrigue. I never realized until now that these dolls were more than toys.  They were characters of unwritten novels.

So when I go to my doll workshop this weekend, I’ll truly be re-connecting with my inner child. Oh the places we’ll go! 

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