Alice C. W. Dennis – doll artist interview – part one

Alice C. W. Dennis makes art dolls with wonderful facial expressions.  In this interview on three pages, she shares her insights, inspirations, resources, and recommendations for new dollmakers.


dolls by alice c. w. dennis (c)2005

The interview starts here…

Q. How do you describe your dolls?

I sometimes have difficulty with this. My “creations” are of everyday people, mainly. I am known for my “people wreaths”. These wreaths are wall art; busts of people.

Using a wreath for an armature, I do a caricature of a person of a certain occupation, interest, hobby or character. I needle sculpt the faces from nylon or swimming suit fabric. I use gloves for the hands. I either paint the eyes right on the fabric or sometimes make them from polymer clay.

Q. Are your dolls intended for play, or mostly for display?

Display mainly, although sometimes I do make dolls for play as well.

Q. Did you play with dolls when you were little? Do any of them influence your work today?

Yes I had dolls. The only one that really impressed me was also the only handmade one I had. It had been made for my older brother. It was a cloth doll sailor, with an embroidered face, and tight curls for hair that I think were made from french knots.

Q. Are your dolls “real”? Do they seem to dictate how they are created, what facial expression they wear, and what you name them?

Definitely! They evolve with each step. Once I thought I was making a sea captain. Boy was I surprised when It turned out that I was making a likeness of Dame Edna!

The older characters I make seem to be full of stories. I feel like they are eager to sit and talk for hours about their experiences. When finished their name seems apparent, as if I have always known them.

Now and then I do see the actual people who have influenced the faces. I have seen them in the line at my bank or at the coffee shop. It always surprises me when I realize I have needle-modeled a face from a person I might have seen often but don’t really know.

Q. How long have you been making dolls? How did you get started?

The Christmas eve after my first child (a daughter) was born, my mother gave me a sewing machine and a book on how to sew.

The first thing I made was a rag doll for her. I used a pillowcase for the fabric for the body and old clothes of mine for the fabric for the doll’s clothes. I found an old foam pillow and tore it up to use for the stuffing. LOL what a lovely doll it was!!!

I continued sewing and made dolls and stuffed animals for gifts over the years.

In 1981, I bought a little old lady face magnet. I looked at it and thought, “I can do that.” I began experimenting with needle sculpture.

In 1984, I bought Judy Mahlstedt’s pattern, Emily. I learned so much from that pattern. I showed the first Emily I made to some friends and they all ordered one! I got permission from Judy to make and sell the little puppet baby. I have continued making that little puppet baby for these past 20 years.

The success I had with Judy’s pattern gave me the confidence to experiment more and create my own dolls. Often people asked if I couldn’t make something in the line of home decoration. I made life size figures, which people bought for antique cars and front porches, and living rooms. I made vacuum cleaner covers as well as tree ornament angels, tooth fairies, and “angels of the month.”

One day while watching the Carol Duval show, there was a young man that fashioned a scarecrow wreath. He gave it a simple muslin head. I saw it and thought, “That is it! I can make people wreaths using my needle-sculpted heads and give them much, much more detail!”

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