This is a 2005 interview with Italian doll artist Stefania Morgante. This is a very informative interview, and you may want to print it out to read offline.
Q. What kinds of dolls do you make?
A. Italian…? I don’t know; Italians tell me that I make American dolls and the Americans say that I create Italian-style dolls. I like to think that my dolls are very international.
Mostly, I like to create unusual effects with materials, especially papier-mache. For example, my Pinocchio figure isn’t really made of wood; he’s papier-mache. I’ve also developed a porcelain effect with papier-maché.
And, I love materials of all kinds. They spark my imagination. I love weldments in copper, I love essential oils and terracotta, spices, leaves, beads, stones, bells, and… anything that piques my curiosity!
Last but not least, I love my dolls to have a “lack of perfection.” You will never see symmetry in my dolls.
For example, see my cloth bears. One of my recent teddy bears, Ichnusa, won First Prize (Undressed Bears category) in the 2004 Italian Festival of Teddy Bears.
Q. How did you become a dollmaker? How long have you been making dolls and figures?
A. I have been creating dolls since I was a child, and I have been collecting them for years, too. I think that I inherited my mother’s passion for creating things. She specialized in dresses made with little pieces of fabric that no one would ever have thought to use.
As I grew up, I used to paint, create sculpture and, when I wasn’t studying or reading… Well, I followed my mother’s example and kept creating.
I went online about five years ago and discovered the international world of dollmakers. I met many people, and soon my American friends encouraged me to open my own dollmaking workshop. That has become www.gufobardo.com. Soon I will have dolls patterns, dollmaking kits, and cross stitch patterns.
Also, I hope to offer art lessons, including instruction in painting. And, I have an idea for a challenge to connect the USA and Italy! 2005 will be a very exciting year for me.
Q. Did you study art in school?
A. Yes. I studied at the Art High School in Lecce. Lecce is in the little region of Puglia, and it is best known as southern Italy’s most important Baroque city. Lecce’s craftsmen are respected worldwide for their papier-mache art, especially for religious sculptures.
Then, I attended the DAMS University in Bologna (Art, Music and Performance) where I got my degree in Shapes Theory. My thesis was based on a Sylvia Plath poem that was, in turn, inspired by a de Chirico painting.
Q. When you make dolls, do your ideas arrive all at once? Or, do you have a few ideas, and then later think of some more, and–eventually–this becomes a doll?
A. I plan a doll as I would plan a sculpture. It’s the same approach. I start with something that I saw while traveling, a note, a sketch, or perhaps a fabric in a shop. Sometimes the idea comes from a dream and I’ll sit down to work on it that same day.
At other times, I think-think-think and then–when I see a decoration or a fabric–actually start work after some days or months.
I think that a doll, like any artwork, emerges from layers of ideas, and from things already seen: from books read, vegetables of flowers in my garden, or something that I noticed on TV.
Q. What inspires you as an artist, and as a dollmaker? Do you ever run out of ideas?
A. My country inspires me. I get inspired by the remarkable artistic tradition we have in Italy. For example, this was the birthplace of the Renaissance, and Italy has always been one of the world’s great artistic centers.
The food, the music (Rossini, Verdi, Paganini and so on…), and our characteristic creative spirit inspire me: colors and shapes of our small region, our rich history, culture, and Italy’s legendary wine and food. And, I love our continuous capacity to renew arts and craft. I attended the Bologna university, Europe’s oldest continuing institution of higher learning, and possibly the world’s oldest university!
And finally, my parents are native Italians, one from the south and the other from the north, so I think I can say that I’m completely Italian. And so, my country inspires me.
I won’t make the same doll over and over, just as I don’t want every day to be the same. I love to make things–dolls, sweaters, patterns, kits, angels, witches, amulets, talismans, and thousands of others things–but each one is different!
Q. Tell us how you make each doll unique.
A. Do you need cuddles? Do you want a new atmosphere in your house? In your life? Do you want an angel to protect you? Do you want a special gift for your wife? These are some of the requests that I get as a dollmaker, and I love this!
In Christmas 2003, I was asked to make a witch doll for a girl passing through an awful period. So I wrote a “magic formula rigamarole” and I tied it to the doll’s arm. The girl has been so happy, the lady who ordered it bought a second one for herself! I think to dream is indispensable for everyone!
Q. How do you name your dolls?
A. Well… sometimes my dolls haven’t a name until they are finished. And, sometimes the name is in my mind when I start, but it doesn’t suit the doll, after all. I love the sound of some words like “Camilla,” “Desiderio”(one of my angels is called Desire), and “Coriandolo” (coriander). These words inspire figures.
For example, right now I’m creating a cross stitch pattern of a colorful cat, and I don’t know why, but it’s called “the dreams of Theo”.
And, occasionally I give dolls to my friends’ children, and they have changed the dolls’ names. For each child, the doll seems to have another name. I don’t know why, but this always delights me.
Q. If someone wants to become a professional dollmaker, what advice would you give them?
A. Consistency, perseverance, discipline, and a sense of your own artistic identity. Learn from every person you meet. Remember, communication is essential! Keep these in mind, and good fortune will result.
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