Don’t expect baby dolls or Barbies at the upcoming doll exhibit at the Petaluma Arts Center. The two-month display highlights handcrafted, one-of-a-kind artistry that challenges visitors to test their very perceptions of dolls.
Opening July 23, “Journeys Through Light & Dark: Dolls as Tellers of Stories” is a showcase for local and internationally acclaimed doll makers whose works range from whimsical and fanciful to puppet-form, fantasy sculptures and creature- and fairy-like figures.
Some, as the exhibit title implies, have taken a step toward the dark side.
The exhibit features 37 invited artists, 30 juried artists and more than 100 dolls thoughtfully arranged in display cases, on walls and pedestals; even hanging from the ceiling of the converted train depot that houses the arts center.
Featured artists are Kate Church of Canada, who designs “sculptural puppetry” and has created figures for Cirque du Soleil; and Toby Froud of Oregon, a sculptor, fabricator and puppeteer who appeared as the baby central to the story in the Jim Henson film, “Labyrinth,” in 1986.
Froud grew up in a world of puppets, dolls and fairies. His father, Brian Froud, is a world-renowned fairy artist who worked as a conceptual designer on “Labyrinth.” His mother, Wendy Froud, is a premier doll maker who fabricated Yoda, the legendary Jedi master who first appeared in “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Additionally, four dolls clubs will present displays.
Each figurative work tells a story. Collectively, the exhibit explores the powerful ways contemporary artists convey stories about our lives and the world surrounding us.
“These artists’ dolls lead you to wonder what the artist was experiencing,” said Geri Olson, Ph.D., a Petaluma resident and one of the exhibit’s two curators. “You enter their world.”
A Sonoma State University psychology professor, Olson has spent 25 years studying the role of dolls in society and presenting lectures and workshops on the topic. Fellow curator Sherri Morgan of Portola is an educator, sculptor and international event and workshop coordinator with a love of figurative art.
Along with the center’s exhibition manager, Kim Chigi, the women have arranged an exhibit that blurs some lines.
“It’s an opportunity to see doll artists as fine artists and not crafters,” Olson said. “We’ll propose that as something for people to ponder.”
The dolls, from 6 inches to 4 feet high, are created from a wide range of media, including metal, porcelain, polymer, wire, paper, cloth, wood and combinations of innovative materials. Some were several years in the making.
Using dolls as art forms, the artists engage emotions and evoke reactions. Meanings are personal and vary depending on the viewer.
“I think we are moved by the doll art in many different ways,” Olson said. “There’s something very personal about viewing them.”
Through her years of study, Olson discovered some form of dolls as part of human existence for some 25,000 years. Used by cultures in rituals, religion and magic; as playthings; marking life transitions; even worn as symbols of protection going into battle; dolls have long held special meaning and importance.
“Almost all cultures have dolls. In most cultures you can find some representation of a doll form. They may not look like dolls to us, but they had some purpose,” Olson said.