Ellen Tsagaris is one of our favorite doll bloggers. 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.
R. John Wright’s Literary Contributions to Dolls, Mr. Wright “Writes”
Dolls and literature go together like coffee and cream; in fact, as a teacher of literature who loves dolls, I can’t seem to separate the two. Such dual interests just prove what one of my favorite doll authors, Eleanor St. George, once wrote, that doll folk are not single-minded people.
At Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s graduate school, we also argued that everything could be a text, and one that could be studied across the curriculum. Works of doll art, like RJW’s fantastic cloth creations, are certainly texts worthy of study and admiration. Mr. Wright, or to us who love dolls with literary ties, “Mr. Write”, has proven that he, too, follows a long line of doll artists and doll makers who find inspiration for their work in literature.
His interpretations of literary text, in particular children’s literature, are endearing and breathtaking. His work holds a special place in my doll memories because he has brought to life the companions of my childhood, those wonderful creatures who kept me company late at night through the pages of the books I read by flash light, with the sheet pulled over my head, and a purloined Tootsie Pop in my free hand. Pure Bliss!
I read fairy tales, especially “The Little Mermaid”, “ The Little Prince”, “Winnie the Pooh”, picture books of Cicely Barker’s Flower Fairies, Edith the Lonely Doll Stories, “The Wizard of Oz”, Tasha Tudor books, and so many more, all now come to life, or about to come to life, in the dolls of R. John Wright.
The Little Mermaid, portrayed as a mermaid mouse, will soon join my own personal doll museum, which I hope will be public one day, not too far, far away. She and the other literary mice are especially important to me.
When I was very little, Beatrix Potter and Richard Scarry were my favorite illustrators.
Sensing this, my dad used to make up bed time stories about small towns inhabited by animal citizens and their adventures. Especially popular with me were his stories of The Mouse Police, who ran around dressed like English Bobbies brandishing nightsticks. Besides literature, I also ended up teaching criminal justice and law. Hmm, I wonder ….
But, before I digress too much, let me say that the characters RJW brings to life are more than dolls, more than art. They are icons of childhood for those of us who were real children, and those of us who have never quite grown up in some very good ways. They are soft, warm, tangible, and wonderful to hold, but also artistic, inspiring, and beautifully composed objects to admire.
Last summer when I did a presentation on dolls, flowers, and gardens for a local herbal group, I brought photos of the RJW flower fairies, along with my holly hock dolls, dried apple dolls, bark dolls, and cornhusk dolls. I almost heard little wings flutter in approval as I handed out copies of my own Herb’s Daughters paper dolls.
When I think of doll artists, R. John Wright’s literary characters spring from his workshop, back into my imagination, and onto the pages of the books I read so eagerly by flashlight, not so long ago. May we all live happily ever after!
Ellen Tsagaris is the author of several articles on dolls that have appeared in Doll Reader, National Doll World, Doll Designs, International Doll World, Hope and Glory, Doll News, Adventures, and The Western Doll Collector. She is the author of two books about dolls, Bibliography of Doll and Toy Sources and With Love from Tin Lizzie; A History of Metal Heads, Metal Dolls, Mechanical Dolls, and Automatons. She lectures on dolls for various organizations and has displayed part of her collection in museums.