Visit dollmaker Mimi Kirchner's blog, DOLL at www.mimikirchner.com, and you'll be greeted by a few swarthy, tattooed gentlemen. In Mimi's doll-making world anything goes! And everything goes into the mix from scraps of cashmere, an old sweater found at a thrift store, or even antique linen petticoats.
A Carnegie-Mellon graduate with a BFA, Kirchner has always been keen on figurative art. Starting out with ceramics, Kircher attempted to fit a figure in a three-dimensional space or form. Although, making dolls was an early ambition for Kirchner when she was attending art school, she had little time to explore the process and was somewhat hesitant to actually delve into it.
After a while Kirchner became tired of working in pottery. She began painting and print-making, but the initial trigger into doll-making was working with her mother-in-law to repair an old doll. Shortly after that, she was given a vast supply of fine fabric from her own mother. Once she started, there was no looking back.
While researching historical dolls at the library, Kirchner became fascinated by the illustrations of the Izannah Walker and Chase dolls; these became a source of inspiration for her vintage doll collection. But Kirchner is motivated to create dolls by almost everything she sees, including beautiful fabrics, the every day events of life, stories she's read, what other artisans are making and photographing. Says Kirchner, "If I hit a dead end, I have two ways of recharging that usually work--I go back to my older work, look through it and try to come up with a new approach or replicate one. The other technique is to go through all my materials. That way I get two things accomplished -- clearing out some stuff and finding something that sparks an idea."
Like other artists turned dollmakers, Kirchner is enamored with the three-dimensional element and the abundance of materials that are employed to make a plush doll. As an avid collector of "stuff" Kirchner incorporates everything that she's interested in at the time, from printed cloth and antique buttons to make her tattooed ladies and gentleman to an assortment of different fabrics to make her swaddled baby dolls.
Kirchner takes a simple approach to her process in designing her dolls. Typically she doesn't work in any linear or pre-planned fashion, the characters, she says, "…emerge as I work on them. My doll patterns are pretty basic and I do limited sketching (with water erasable fabric pens) of the face before I start stitching. As I work, someone comes to life. I care a lot about the craftsmanship. And, I have always had a preference for work that sells- in a sense that validates it."
Her recent collection of tattooed men started with the thought of making a doll with tattoos. The idea was sparked by a woman at a bar who had an intriguing tattoo of a tree. After several months of pondering, drawing numerous sketches, and collecting pictures of tattoos, Kirchner started to think how she would go about the tattooing process on her dolls. At first she started with embroidery, but she says, "It was obvious that would be too labor intensive." She considered drawing them with Sharpie markers, but then she started to consider fabric that already had drawings on it and realized that she had to look into the world of toile. Says Kirchner, "I made the first doll and I thought he was so funny, but I wasn't sure if anyone besides me would understand that the toile was supposed to be the tattoos."
But it's not all about pirates or circus strongmen with body art: Kirchner also has a penchant for cats, as evidenced by a fabulous collection of felines made out of scraps of thrift store wool sweaters or other salvaged knits. Like their breathing counterparts, each of these pussy-cats has its own distinct personality.
Apart from the whimsical characters, aficionados of appliqué will have their breath taken away with Kirchner's Swaddled Babies series. For each of these, Kirchner has sculpted the faces, added woolen caps, and has painstakingly appliquéd felt flowers, leaves and butterflies to the babies' blankets.
Kirchner occasionally sells her work at craft shows, but she admits that the Internet has been very good to her. She displays her work as it proceeds on her blog and on Flickr and then sells it. Sometimes she sells directly and sometimes via her shop at Etsy. Her dolls have been sold to all but five of the states in the US, and two dozen countries.
As for her audience, she sells to people who buy the dolls for themselves- very rarely as a gift for someone else. Kirchner says, "Most of my customers are adults buying for themselves. If someone says to me that they wish they had a child to buy one of my dolls for, I know they don't see what I am doing- that it is art, not a toy."
To view Mimi Kirchner's fabulous dolls visit www.mimikirchner.com; to watch a video of Mimi in her studio go to http://www.etsy.com/storque/handmade-life/handmade-portraits-mimi-kirchner-4405/