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A behind-the-scenes look at the R. John Wright Dolls Design Studio in Bennington, Vermont. Written by R. John Wright, hear in his own words how the creative design process unfolds and how the world-renowned RJW dolls and animal characters are readied for production. 

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A behind-the-scenes look at the R. John Wright Dolls Design Studio in Bennington, Vermont. Written by R. John Wright, hear in his own words how the creative design process unfolds and how the world-renowned RJW dolls and animal characters are readied for production. 

Tasha Tudor, Dolls, and Inspiration!

John Wright

Ellen Tsagaris is the resident RJW Design Journal guest blogger. She has collected dolls since she was three years old. She has made dolls, priced dolls, repaired, dressed, and studied dolls and her blogging work can be found on the doll collecting section of about.com and on her personal doll blogs, Doll Museum, and Dr. E's Doll Museum blog. Ellen is a fan and collector of R. John Wright dolls and we were fortunate to have her guest blog for us about the love of Tasha Tudor, dolls, and inspiration.

To my way of thinking, the name Tasha Tudor and the word dolls are synonymous; I can’t think of one without conjuring the other.  This is probably because my first Tudor book was “The Doll’s Christmas”, and my mother bought it from a stationery and novelty store called Carlson Brothers, that actually have over most of its second floor to dolls.   The memory of that wonderful store still haunts me; it was near Carson Pierre Scott, which hosted a small display of miniature rooms a la The Throne Rooms.  The miniature room display was the same year that Mom bought me the book.

That book and I have gone on many journeys, so many, that later, Mom bought me the paperback version to read and reread.  I made a cover for the hardback version using a cutout of Picasso’s version of La Infanta Margarita from Velasquez, “The Meninas”, [The Handmaidens].  I drew doll portraits on the inside covers.  I made paper dolls for my paper doll houses from the dust jacket!  I know, horror of horrors!  But, I still have everything I’ve just described, and somehow, being loved this way, the book means more to me.  Such is the power of great art and literature, and of great dolls.  I used “The Dolls Christmas” as inspiration.  I used to re-enact the holiday dinner and set up doll houses for big dolls using big boxes and TV trays I covered with cloths and then tied back as curtains.

My dolls were dressed in approximations of Nicey and Sethany’s clothes.  Years later, I actually found a doll like Nicey, and even one like Sethany.  I loved my handmade paper doll versions, done with Xeroxed pictures and “Crayola’d” or watercolored where needed.

One Version of Tottie, a book featuring a similar doll, a Celluloid “Apple” and the DVD. This photo, and that of The Plantagenet Family below by my husband, Dino Milani.

One Version of Tottie, a book featuring a similar doll, a Celluloid “Apple” and the DVD. This photo, and that of The Plantagenet Family below by my husband, Dino Milani.

When I was in college, Tasha Tudor answered a letter I wrote to her.  She included a sketch of Sethany and Nicey; I’ll always treasure it.  Years later, when I was writing my thesis, I wrote to Rumer Godden as part of my research.  She, too, replied.  The two were friends and collaborated on Godden’s “The Dolls’ House”, which Tudor illustrated.

Letter sent to Ellen by T. Tudor

Letter sent to Ellen by T. Tudor

Another favorite Tasha Tudor books is “A is for Annabelle”, the alphabet book based on the wardrobe of an antique French Fashion doll.  I had always read that Annabelle was a Huret, based on Tudor’s own Melissa Dove Crane.  I’ve also seen her portrayed as Jumeau fashion doll.  Whatever type of doll she is Annabelle is an inspiration.  She was my muse in assembling wardrobes for many kinds of dolls, antique French fashion [in my case, a Barrois], small antique all bisques, reproduction artist dolls, American Girl, Heidi Ott, micro mini dolls, and more. 

Small Papier Mache and her Wardrobe. Courtesy, Theriault’s

Small Papier Mache and her Wardrobe. Courtesy, Theriault’s

I made my own version of Annabelle after reading the book about 100 times, she was authentic down to the pink gingham dress.  Today, there are places to help you recreate your own Annabelle, including Dollspart, but I was on my own. Tudor’s wonderful dolls found their way into reference books by Eleanor St. George, Life Magazine articles, biographies and monographs on Tudor, postcards by Nell Dorr, even other Tudor books.  Take Joy featured all sorts of events for the antique dolls, as did Rosemary, That’s for Remembrance.

French Fashion Doll with Extensive Wardrobe And Accessories.  Courtesy, Theriault’s.

French Fashion Doll with Extensive Wardrobe And Accessories.  Courtesy, Theriault’s.

In light of all the squabbles involving Tudor’s will, I often wonder where these dolls are now.  We studied the will in the class I teach on wills, trusts, and estates.  Yet, Tudor’s work and life legacy have been subjects in my other classes on art & humanities, literature, and even composition.  I use videos and taped conversations with Tudor herself; everyone is fascinated with her 1830s lifestyle and quick wit.  Tudor was a complicated person, intelligent, fearless, opinionated, and imaginative.  I appreciated the fact that she was widely read, yet also avante garde in many things.  She was a great illustrator and business woman, but she was also a fine artist in the tradition of her mother, Rosamund Tudor.  Like many of us who are married but who are professional women, she kept her name when she married, even if others raised their eyebrows.

Throughout my life, I tried to be a little “Tasha” just as others try to be “Martha” to show their admiration for Martha Stewart.   I named my first antique German doll “Melinda.”  I made advent calendars using watercolors after I read Take Joy. I always had a dolls’ Christmas, and followed recipes in Tudor books including The New England Buttry Shelf Cookbook. I learned more about watercolors from studying her illustrations than I did in art class.  I think if there is a muse to my own madness of doll collecting and the art, research, crafting, and study that go with it, that muse would have to be Tasha Tudor.

Can we ever be inspired enough by art and literature?  My mantra is, “No, No, No!!” For this reason, I can’t wait to see the RJW interpretation of Tudor’s work which will be debuted at UFDC this month.

My own Plantagenet family, inspired by The Dolls’ House; L to R, Top:  Birdie, here as a vintage composition doll from Mexico, dressed By my Grandmother.  I did the pinafore.  To her right, Mr. P, a vintage Effanbee Baby doll I dressed in a red flannel suit.  Bottom:  L, Marchpane, an all bisque Jumeau replica; I dressed her and did her wig of mohair. Darner, a jointed wood dog here sitting on a vintage velvet chair from Boston, vintage brass coffee pot from India, vintage 1/144 scale doll house; it opens and is furnished.  Far right, a celluloid antique doll, similar to the original Birdie. My doll house, built by my Dad, is called Plantagenet House.  

My own Plantagenet family, inspired by The Dolls’ House; L to R, Top:  Birdie, here as a vintage composition doll from Mexico, dressed By my Grandmother.  I did the pinafore.  To her right, Mr. P, a vintage Effanbee Baby doll I dressed in a red flannel suit.  Bottom:  L, Marchpane, an all bisque Jumeau replica; I dressed her and did her wig of mohair. Darner, a jointed wood dog here sitting on a vintage velvet chair from Boston, vintage brass coffee pot from India, vintage 1/144 scale doll house; it opens and is furnished.  Far right, a celluloid antique doll, similar to the original Birdie. My doll house, built by my Dad, is called Plantagenet House.

 

Greenhouse for my Doll House; Terrarium in foreground is real and tiny. I did many of the accessories and plants and assembled the greenhouse. Photo by Dino Milani.

Greenhouse for my Doll House; Terrarium in foreground is real and tiny. I did many of the accessories and plants and assembled the greenhouse. Photo by Dino Milani.