RJW: Do you remember your first R. John Wright piece?
Paul Ward: The first RJW figure that I acquired was “Mississippi Bear Hunt.” I found this particular piece in an antique/collectibles collective in a neighboring community. Ted and the cub were without their box and the gun was in pieces and missing some bits. However, the certificate was there and otherwise the doll was in great shape. I figured at the price that was being asked, I could afford to “rescue” what I knew to be a very collectible piece. I ended up contacting Amy at RJW about sending the gun back to the shop for restoration, which was done, and so now Teddy and Bear are good as new. Still no box, but hey at least they’re in a home where they are appreciated, cared-for and protected!
RJW: Why do you collect?
Paul Ward: I have been a collector for most of my life. As a child growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s I was raised with all things “Disney.” Of course there was also TV and all the ads to buy this and collect that. I doubt many kids (let alone their parents) came through that era of watching Disneyland being built, the Mickey Mouse Club and all the myriad offers, promotions and must-haves that ensued without starting some kind of collection. Plus, I was always fascinated with anything miniature, which made me even more susceptible to the collecting bug. Collecting has been with me for so long that it is almost certainly engrained in my DNA by now. The good news is that as I have aged, my taste has matured and I am now more discerning in what I collect, which is also bad news when it comes to cost! Oh well! Some people buy clothes…I collect!
RJW: We love that you are drawn to Brownies. What is it about them that interested you to start collecting them?
Paul Ward: Ah yes, the Brownies! Part of my fascination has to do with my dad and his stories about the Brownies and Brownie-Points when HE was a child in the ‘20s. But mostly it is the fantasy of things magical and miniature and my fascination with the same. When you think about it, the Wright's Brownies are very nearly facsimile in size to the “real” beings. I mean how could I possibly resist having a whole troop of the little guys living in my doll case! Obviously I couldn’t and I didn’t!
RJW: Is there something that R. John Wright hasn’t created that would be a dream creation for you?
Paul Ward: That’s a really good question. I adore “Harry Potter” and all of Rowlings writings about the magical world. But, that ship has pretty much sailed when it comes to collectibles. And, like the Wrights, I think illustrative art for children’s books is some of the best around. But, one of my long standing rules about artists and their work is: Don’t interfere! I collect RJW pieces when they speak to me, and spark my imagination. I know the quality is always going to be there. Also, the artistry can be counted on 100%. So I figure, the job of RJW and company is to imagine and realize their artistic expression to best of their abilities and my job is to appreciate what they create and collect what moves the heart of my inner child.
RJW: If you could ask R. John Wright a question, what would it be?
Paul Ward: Can I come live in your workshop and watch you create and work? Kidding! I know you’ve talked about the process of taking an idea/image and moving it to a three-dimensional figure in felt. And you have also talked about creating your pieces from sources created by others. Is there a particular set of criteria or guidelines you follow in choosing a source for a figure? And, once you’ve found an image you want to translate into your medium (felt/cloth), what does it take to "bring it in-house” so you can begin your actual creating?
From R. John Wright: Hi Paul, Great to hear from you and to see your terrific collection. I appreciate the way you have showcased the dolls and animals so elegantly—both singly and in groups. I'll try to answer your question but let me know if it brings up further questions!
Our work varies a lot as it encompasses animal characters as well as dolls. And the directions we decide to take are sometimes unpredictable. We enjoy doing things we've never done before. I'm proud of the diversity of our output but I can see where collectors may wonder how we choose projects.
There are no set guidelines in choosing what to do, but unlike some artists, we are most comfortable working with strong source material. Obviously, we gravitate towards imagery that has stood the test of time. And despite the fact that we've been inspired by classic images for 40 years, we still have a lot of things on our 'To Do' list. Sometimes a subject will percolate on the back burner for several years before we move it to the front and begin to focus on it. For example, the Wizard of Oz series was something we wanted to do for decades. It took that long for us to feel that our skills had advanced to the point where we could do the project justice.
We have a large flat file in our design room stuffed with inspirational material gathered over the years. Of course, with the advent of the Internet we also have corresponding digital files of images to inspire us. Categories include: Children; Bears; Animals as well as sub-topics and individual characters many of which are well-known or licensed. The images are both real and imagined - modern and vintage - so it covers a lot of territory.
What brings a specific image or character to the forefront? If we are under license, quite often that will dictate that we focus on a specific property. There are financial obligations associated with holding a product license. Or perhaps we will want to design something seasonal (such as a Christmas item) or something to compliment a special event (like one of our convention souvenirs). We may decide to design something for a special group of collectors - such as our mice enthusiasts or those that collect RJW bears. There are many reasons which can compel us to design a specific item.
Once we land on a new project, the creative process is merely a series of questions which must be answered. To start, we gather together any 2-dimensional images that pertain to that item. The first question will be 'Scale' - What size will the finished item be? From there, the second question will be 'Materials' - What materials will be used and will any new materials need to be ordered? The third question will be whether any new molds will be required. If the answer is 'yes', we will need to get out the clay and begin sculpting. From there, depending on the complexity of the project, it can take up to 3 months to complete the prototype. Actual production can usually begin shortly thereafter.
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