Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The duality of dolls.........

I came across this little gem on Bellabelle's Blog this morning, and naturally it spawned at least an hour or so of displacement activity as I got to thinking about the duality of dolls, and how, while they have the ability to delight, comfort and soothe, there is also an element of the truly creepy about them.

Even as a doll aficionado, I find something extremely unsettling about this for example...

Naturally, the horror genre has legion examples of cute little dolls turning out to be crazed killers. Who can forget the sharp-toothed, snapping jawed dolls attacking Jane Fonda in Barbarella, or the scary clown doll from The Poltergeist?

Not to mention the eponymous Chucky.

There are even websites and blogs dedicated to scary dolls.

Perhaps due to my overactive imagination, I wasn't particularly keen on dolls as playthings when I was a child. One Christmas, my uncle, who was a sailor in the merchant navy, brought me a walking, talking doll which was as tall as me. The walking action was achieved by my holding her hands and sort of staggering her across the floor, one stiff leg after the other. It was walking, but only after a fashion. To make her talk I had to bend her forward to activate her voice box. She wasn't a great conversationalist as I recall, her vocabulary being limited to 'Mamma' and a sort of mewling crying sound.

She had blonde curls and her blue eyes opened and closed.

I called her Elizabeth, and tried to be very grateful and appreciative, but in truth I was a bit scared of her. At night she sat straight-legged on a little cane chair, and I used to watch her outlined against the window, alert to any small movement or sound she might make.

Eventually I managed to break her while teaching her to walk down the steps from the front door. Due to her clumsy gait she toppled over and smashed her head open on the stone path, revealing her eye movement mechanism. I think I managed to be a little upset, but mostly I was relieved that she wouldn't be sitting in the corner of my bedroom any more.

I can't remember what happened to her. Perhaps we buried in the garden but I'm sure I would remember that, especially as in the summer months I was allowed to sleep outside in my little tent, and I certainly would have conjured up visions of her clawing her way out of her grave and staggering zombie-like across the grass to wreak revenge on her murderer.

Like I said, I was an imaginative child.

I kept her eye mechanism for years, in a little box of treasures. Strangely I didn't find the disembodied eyes at all creepy, and often played with the clacking, eyelash-rimmed eyes, making them open and close repeatedly.

The other dolls of particular note, again brought home by my sea-faring uncle, were a Mexican Gaucho, and a Zulu Warrior. The Warrior in particular was very splendid, with a real animal hide shield with tiny teeth embedded in it. His facial expression was rather fierce and he carried a spear with a sharp real metal tip which would give the Health & Safety brigade a fit of the vapours and be instantly banned nowadays. Because he was so fragile though I never really 'played' with him and he was displayed on my little bookshelf. I used to worry that he was cold, as aside from beads and a little fur skirt he was completely naked. Oddly I didn't conjure terrifying visions of him creeping across to my sleeping form and plunging his spear into my eye. Perhaps he was just too lifelike, whereas doll-like Elizabeth was the stuff of nightmares.

Of course, having said all that, I feel that I now have to defend my position as a dollmaker. However, doll's house dolls are mostly meant to represent actual characters, real or fictional, in realistic situations. And of course my little toy dolls are so sweet and unassuming that they could never be construed as anything other than delightful.


Although, I have been trying to make a two-faced baby, just 1" long, as a child's toy. The plan is that the head will rotate inside a little fixed bonnet to reveal one waking and one sleeping face.

My Dr.Frankenstein-like experiments thus far have been chilling to say the least. I now have a selection of genetically engineered two-faced baby heads which are really rather unsettling. Perhaps they will look less so when I crack the problem of stringing them down through a tiny body while still permitting them to turn smoothly on a neck flange thingy.

It's a work in progress.


M.Narbon said...

Now I'm making a special mini-doll with two heads one brawn & one pale blonde, like one doll my sister has it was a gift from Cuba in the 1945-50.
But is not "scary" at all.

Michelle said...

The more you see the Alma story the scarier it is! lol I love your little dolls, I have a few! A few years ago I bought a little girl and her doll and a little toy (a head on a handle, (that sounds scary lol, I can't remember the name of the toy!), when you attended a fair in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex (where I used to live). :o)). Can't wait to see how the two-faced doll turns out!

Michelle xxx

julie campbell said...

We doll makers and lovers seem to be spit into two camps regarding the scary/not thing ! My family are in the scary camp and eye my doll collection with mistrust, my 21 year old son has a friend who actually shudders when he passes my doll collection !
My husband can ignore most of them but the antique ones with tiny little teeth give him the shivers LOL me I just love them, Although I did decide the pelham puppet witch in my shed was giving me evil looks and put her back in her box.......
I cant wait to see your two headed doll, what fun ! Have you seen the ones with three faces ? they were often happy crying and sleeping,
julie xxx

Sandra Morris said...

Michelle, the doll's heads on handles are called marottes. They were very popular in Victorian times, and would often contain a musical movement which played when the handle was twirled.

Sandra Morris said...

Sorry, I'm with your husband here. Dolls with teeth showing give me the heebie-jeebies too.


In my research for the two-faced doll I did find examples of three-face ones, but I have enough trouble fitting two heads onto a 4mm diameter head as it is, without complicating things further.

I used to have a wonderful collection of Pelham Puppets years back but they've all disappeared. My favourite was the baby dragon, which sometimes come up on Ebay so I might be tempted.
Know what you mean about the witch though.... I had one of those too and she always made me feel uneasy.

Too many fairy tales as a child, obviously......

M.Narbon said...

Certain do you have this book:
“RARE CHARACTER DOLLS” by Maree Tarnowska, (pages 41, 42, 43)
the 2 faces dolls pictured in are really scary!!!
Your mini dolls are very, very lovely!!

Sandra Morris said...

Thanks for the suggestion and your kind comments on my little dolls.
I have a few other books by Maree Tarnowska, but not the one you mentioned. I'll see if I can get a copy.

Pan said...

Oooh! those dolls are scarey - especially the talking one who knows a secret!


Neen said...

Your dolls are lovely and unique, therefore I can't imagine you creating a scarey doll. A few Japanese anime dolls work in dollhouse settings. They come with several snap-on faces, but those faces are scarey! Perhaps you could come up with a 1:12 scale doll with several snap-on faces. If you create them, not only will they not instigate nightmares, they will animate and bring warmth to their environment.

Cheers, Neen. P.s. Have you created a mini version of my favorite puppy--Small Dog?