MY REFLECTION IN THE MIRROR:
ABOUT ME: I’d like to introduce myself. I hope you relax with a cup of tea, making yourself comfortable while I share a bit about myself. My first marriage of 17 years brings happy memories of the beginnings of my doll business and later the blooming of my family with three wonderful children. I was known as Janice Cuthbert to many of you. Today I bear the last name of Allen and am blessed to have been married to my second husband for over 21 years and to have a college student still at home. As a wife, mother of 4 dear children and 3 stepchildren and grandmother of 10 precious grandchildren, I try to keep my life in balance, involving God, family, friends and work. I am fortunate that my work with antique dolls is more like play than work! In this article, I will be focusing on what brought me into this line of work.
Picture a curious girl of seven climbing the creaking stairs of her mother's childhood home and carefully peeking about through a myriad of curiosities in the attic. As a child, I remember getting to take special trips to my Grandparent's home in Iowa. I'd love the adventures to the attic, despite the stuffiness and the heat, to experience the rough-hewn flooring and the distinct aroma of aged wood and such wonderful treasures. There were so many things I'd never seen or imagined before. Once, I found the most superb wood models of all my Grandfather's old time farm machinery made by my uncles when they were boys. Another time I got to sit in my mother's glider/rocking chair she had recovered so many years prior. And still another time, we looked through clothing preserved from intruding moths with those crystal-like balls.
But even prior, at the age of 2, I was given a block of wood and a piece of sand paper and began my apprenticeship in making things. Ah! How rewarding life can be when you can put various things together and end up with something beautiful, useful or tasty! At the tender age of 4, my mother placed a needle and thread in my hands and taught me to embroider. It wasn’t long before she had me making a potholder on the sewing machine with bias tape around the edges. She would patiently rip out my mistakes so my level of patience didn’t wear too thin, but then I would give it another try and be so pleased! These samplers still exist in my scrapbook and I will be forever grateful that she cared enough and took the time to impart these skills to me with her gentleness and high standards. She is still cheering me on while in her eighty’s today!
As a junior higher, my Grandmother took me shopping for fabrics for my fall school wardrobe and I couldn’t get past a plaid for my coat. That was my first lesson in matching plaids at the seams, and I was so pleased with how perfect it turned out. Training like this has brought the consciousness of craftsmanship to the things I create.
At 7 years of age, I put my faith in Jesus Christ, the Creator of all things, and began to appreciate even more, the world around me with such a variety of colors and textures. I believe my relationship with Him has influenced me as an artist. I feel like an apprentice at His right hand and ask for His help often as I am working. At times, when a difficult project doesn’t seem to have a solution, after praying, a way is made apparent to me.
Over time I began to realize that people respond to beauty, because it reflects what God is like. There is a spiritual and emotional connection they may not even be aware of. Hearts yearn to be filled with His love. In nature, and in people, there is a reflection of God because he made them. I love the outdoors and animals of all sorts. So in all I do, I would like people to feel just a little closer to the One who is the Master Creator!
My most memorable and inspirational teacher in high school was my art teacher, who called himself, “Boris”. What a fun encourager he was! Unbeknownst to me, he entered one of my projects into a national art contest. I was shocked to receive the gold medal! I realized my path was being directed into art and majored in two dimensional art with an emphasis in watercolor painting in college.
As a 4th grader, I had forsaken my dolls and sold them in order to purchase a horse. As a tomboy, athlete, musician and one who loved learning, I didn’t think about dolls again until my last year of college when I saw a Bye Lo baby in a JC Penny’s display window. Whether it was antique or not, I do not know, but I remember how drawn I was to that doll! Not long after, I was taking up the hobby of china painting on dishes and another student came in with a bisque baby doll head in her hands to have fired in the kiln. What? Was there a place where I could actually make myself a Bye Lo Baby? Sure enough! I jumped at the chance to drive miles further to learn antique porcelain doll reproduction! I told myself I would just make one baby doll. That was in 1977, but soon found that doll making was as addictive as potato chips…”Bet you can’t make just one!”
I had found my niche, incorporating the aspects of a translucent paint such as watercolor to those of china paint, the Victorian period of history that I had loved in the farm houses of Iowa, working in 3D, which partially used my skills in sculpting, and finally, costuming, which used my sewing skills. It seemed a perfect fit! And at every major crossroad in life, it has been true that my past has been built on and I have never been redirected far off the path of being involved with the antique dolls I have so admired! Yes, I soon earned the money to buy a REAL Bye Lo Baby! God blessed the work of my hands as I quickly learned and applied new techniques combined with old. To find my “sweet spot” so early in life wasn’t just coincidence.
In my early years in the world of antique dolls, I was taken under the wing of a wonderful collector and co-author of antique doll books, Marlowe Cooper. She selflessly allowed me the privilege of hands on learning from her fabulous personal collection of rare French and German Dolls. I am forever indebted to her.
Another of my favorite persons was Shirley Jones who held classes in French Hand Sewing methods at her home. What fun it was to sit under her instruction, absorbing as much as I could. A number of us sat around her table sharing our doll projects and sewing to our heart’s content. I celebrated her 80th birthday by bring a doll cake to class with a Bisque Baby Doll head on top with the cake frosted as the Christening Gown and the bisque hands coming out the frosting sleeves at the side. Later, she created the cloth body and dressed the doll.
With Shirley’s influence evident in my costuming, I was pleased to win the top awards in international doll competitions. Including Best in Category, Best In Show and the coveted “Millie Award” from Seeleys. My doll making was going strong with buyers following me from show to show where I would sell out my table of 30 dolls consistently. I had my husband’s help to cast and clean greenware and eventually hired a seamstress for help when Marlowe Cooper asked to take 100 dolls to the UFDC National convention. It was a whirlwind of activity!
When I found a life size Bru mannequin head and bust through a garage sale contact near my home in 1989, I felt compelled to make molds of her so other vintage fashion lovers and doll lovers could reproduce her and enjoy her as well. Some of you may recall her as, “Lady Grace” available from Victoria Station 1880. I promoted her and other life size dolls as her “family”. Reductions were continued until she could be made in 4 smaller sizes. It was so timely to meet a talented theatrical costumer, Ellen Thompsen, who created a fine selection of patterns to fit these molds and joined me at shows to inspire many doll makers with her offerings.
Over the years I have been involved in Lakewood Memory Lane Doll Club and am still a Member of UFDC, The Doll Artisan Guild, and have been a member of Doll Doctors of America. I’ve sold dolls, both old and new, at shows across California. I became certified as a judge for competitions, was featured in the first instructional doll making video for Seeleys, and taught seminars in doll making. Writing articles for doll making magazines, fulfilling limited speaking engagements, and judging the state fair competition were valuable learning experiences as well as a time to pass on what I have learned. I found online doll sales to be convenient for a mother, so beginning in 2001 worked myself up to a Top Rated Seller until eBay changed their shipping requirements and my custom orders for pates could no longer satisfy their shipping deadlines.
There came a day in 2001 when so many things I was working on either warped in the kiln or had unusual expansion damage when placing eyes with plaster that I began to think of putting doll making aside and focusing instead on the antique originals. Someday I will make more dolls, but for now, I have my hands full.
Ever since those early days I've always enjoyed trunks! I must have a dozen or more, of all sizes and shapes and not just for dolls. They bring reminders of those fun-filled hours in my grandma's attic. It was always anticipation without disappointment, and I would like you to experience something similar when you visit my shop and explore “Aunt Janie’s Doll Trunk”. It is not surprising then, that my business names such as "My Gramma's Doll Trunk" on eBay and now, my online shop, "Aunt Janie's Doll Trunk" include a TRUNK.
I love the history and the stories that may come with each item. At times my imagination creates some pretty unique situations these dolls have been in! Most of all, I love bringing joy to others, so you can add to your collection, be inspired by what is lovely, or find the finishing touch for your latest creation. I love the experience of giving the old, a new life and value through a little cleaning, some tender loving care, or finding the right compliment to put them in a setting.
Thank you for spending some time with me today. I will try to add something fresh each week. But I must forewarn you that my stock seldom grows in size because items are gone before I can blink. Perhaps this is because my goal is to pass on good values to you.
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