Thelma Bates 

Family Album Dolls
Laurel, Maryland
301206-2180 Voice
301490-2336 Fax

 Many years ago,  I was born in Omaha, Nebraska. My doll sculptures are influenced by my experiences in that unique Midwestern town. Back then there were Golden Spike Days when Native Americans from the Dakotas, Oklahoma and other areas came to town and I got to wear my prairie dress and bonnet.  I still like long dresses and some of my sculptures are dressed as I did during  that celebration.  There was no television.  My friends and I made things, and imagined things; then met on Saturdays to compare what we had done.  My grandmother  taught me to weave, and my sister taught me to draw.  Paper doll making became the competition between friends.  I began making yarn dolls in high school, but by the time I reached college I was side tracked by other things.  About forty years ago, I began teaching in Michigan, moved  back to Omaha and taught several years   and finally  my three children were ready for college. I moved to Maryland to teach another twenty-three years.  I started painting and since faces interested  me, and I focused on portraits. For a retirement party I made a cloth   doll and painted the person’s face on it.  My interest in “ people making “ began.  I bought a book by Rotraut Schrott on making dolls , and discovered polymer clay.  The joy began,  and I found that the three dimensional figure was at least as much  fun as the two  dimensional painting. . 

For the last five years, I have been making “ Family Album Dolls”.  My dolls represent the influences  of people in my life.  I like people.  Although I may   forget a name, I never forget a face.  At some point in time, you begin to reflect.  I was going through   my mother’s photo albums  and her college memory book.  I began using  pictures of her friends and our relatives  as the models  for my dolls.  “The  Shoppers” and “The Librarian” represent  my  mother and her friends.  “The Deaconess” portrays  my grandmother. Each of my dolls has a little story.  I tried different clays, but I like the feel of Cernit and by mixing I can  get a variety of skin tones.  I have also used ProSculpt  and like the ease of  sculpting in that medium. I love  Philip Heath’s dolls because they are so real.  I really try to create  an intimate quality   with each doll.  I want people to feel  as though they know or have met the person the doll represents. When a doll is almost complete, it sits in my bedroom  so we can connect; then I finish it.

After  all those years  of teaching, I  now have time.  In the past, I worked on a doll each evening and most of the weekend.  It took  a long time.  I am hoping to get my dolls “out of the house” more.  I have twelve on exhibit  at Asbury   Cultural  Arts Center in Gaithersburg, Maryland.  I feel  I have come a long way since my first block of clay.  I get a great satisfaction from the comments and expressions of viewers.  When they smile, point or say   ”that doll looks like..” I feel I have accomplished something.  I really want to be accepted  as a doll artist.  When I was teaching, I tried to enhance the lives  of my students.  Now,  with my dolls, I want to do the same thing.  I want to bring back  a good memory, a smile and a little laughter.

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