Dolls and art have gone hand in hand for centuries. Even in prehistory, humans were creating small statues of women and an occasional man according to their standards of aesthetic beauty. Artists used small articulated models or lay figures to create masterpieces of art. A few artists like Marque, Picasso, and Degas, either created dolls, or were inspired by dolls to create other works of art. Many great artists, including Rembrandt, were collectors themselves. Leonardo da Vinci dabbled in creating automatons, along with other gadgets and machines. Artists like Joseph Cornell and Jarvis Rockwell created works of art using dolls. Norman Rockwell, father to Jarvis, painted them, as in his Doctor and Doll. The artistry of antique dolls influenced Pleasant Rowland’s American Girls. Of course, sculptors and artists have always been involved in creating dolls for play and to collect. There are many non-NIADA books and magazines about doll making including The Art Doll Quarterly. Behind every Barbie, Kewpie, or Betsy Wetsy, there is an artist or sculptor working his or her particular doll magic.
Many artists turn to creating dolls because they are a fresh medium, something to take their art in another direction. Artists who recognized the importance of the relationship between dolls and art founded the National Institute of American Doll Artists, NIADA, in 1963. Originally, four artists founded NIADA, Helen Bullard, Gertrude Florian, Magge Head, and Fawn Zeller. Today, there are over 60 members elected by their peers and member-patrons. The purpose behind founding NIADA was to recognize the art behind original, hand made dolls. Members hold annual get-togethers that include visiting doll makers and doll fans to share work and ideas with each other. There is also a NIADA school for those who wish to learn doll making techniques from the artists of NIADA. The artists’ group also offers publications on artist dolls. For more information about the annual conference and school, visit the NIADA website, www.niada.org.
NIADA has inspired the formation of other organizations that cater to original doll artists and their dolls. Two of these, The British Doll Artist’s Association and the Original Doll Artist Council of America, have partnered with NIADA to create a glossary for doll artists and collectors called “Art Doll Standards.”
Books and publications that address the role of the doll artist outside of NIADA include Max von Boehn’s Dolls, Carl Fox’s The Doll, Clara Hallard Fawcett’s books, Janet Pagter Johl’s and Eleanor St. George’s books that talk about Emma Clear, Helen Young’s The Complete Book of Doll Collecting, Edwina Ruggles’, The One Rose, Spinning Wheel’s Complete Book of Dolls, vol. I, Doll Reader Magazine, Doll Castle News, Kimport’s Doll Talk, Manfred Bachman’s Dolls, the Wide World Over, and Bernice’s Bambini. Wonderful books by NIADA include Krystyna Poray Goddu, ed., The Art of the Doll: Contemporary Work of the National Institute of American Doll Artists. NIADA, 1992, and other books by Goddu on the aritsts. NIADA serves many wonderful purposes in the world of dolls, but the artists remind us above all of the historical and artistic value of dolls for collectors and doll lovers of all ages.