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Susan Fosnot

My work is influenced by the cloth dolls of the 19th century: Ella Smith's "Alabama Baby", J.B. Sheppard's "Philadelphia Baby", and the dolls of Izannah Walker.

Each of my painted cloth dolls is one of a kind—designed, sewn, and stuffed by myself. I paint the heads, arms, and legs using traditional brush techniques. The heads are round, but the faces are flat, with the illusion of eyes, nose, and mouth created entirely with paint. All hair and shoes are also painted. I like to use old fabrics for the clothing-anything from the mid 19th century up through the first decades of the 20th century. Those years were the hey days of cloth dolls, and the time period my dolls usually represent. Old dolls fascinate me. I see them as a true record of history. They are a record of how people envisioned themselves and their place in the world.

I started making dolls when I was a little girl. My Grandmother taught me to sew at an early age, and later I earned a B.S. degree in Fine Art from the University of Wisconsin. Both of these things were important to my doll making. I experimented with many different materials but for me, cloth seems to be the natural choice. So familiar and so versatile, it has both the historic aspect and the tactile qualities that appeal to me.

As an artist who makes dolls I am on a crusade to bring dolls into the fine art venue. This has often been difficult, as doll making is not always recognized as a fine art form. But things are changing. In 2003 one of my dolls was accepted into a show of portraiture and figurative art, and won third place.

In addition to making and selling my dolls, I teach painted cloth doll workshops. Each participant makes a cloth doll and paints the face, hands, and feet. During the workshop we focus on the painting aspect of the project. Participants learn true portrait techniques, and modified for doll making, and simplified for a first painting experience, and modified for doll making.

I also make "Doll Starts", a special type of doll kit. I start each doll by hand painting the face and designing the pattern. Then I pass it on to be sewn, stuffed, and dressed. Each doll is unique, both because of my hand painted face, and because of what the other person contributes. This is also a way for me to make very affordable dolls, while retaining the hand made, one-of-a-kind quality.

My work has appeared in Doll Reader, Contemporary Doll Collector, Dolls, Soft Dolls And Animals, Early American Homes Guide to Traditional Craftsmen (four times), and two of Susanna Oroyan's books. I have written articles on doll making for Doll Crafter Magazine, on dolls as art for Contemporary Doll Collector, and on the Columbian Doll for Doll News.


I have been commissioned to create a souvenir doll for the 2006 national UFDC convention.

Recently, I have zigzagged from life size baby dolls to very small dolls, some as small as seven inches tall. My favorite size right now is around nine inches. These are made from vintage linen fabric and stuffed with fresh Arkansas cotton. The paint is applied directly to the fabric, so the nature of the linen shows through. They are dressed in antique and vintage fabrics.

Awards: 2003: third place in ' Real People' for one of my dolls--a fine art show of portraiture and figurative art. 

2005-- Dolls selected and photographed (fourth time) for Early Americam Life Directory of Top Traditional Crafts

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