1. How did dolls and doll making first become a part of your life?
I had injured my knee my senior year of high school, two weeks into my senior year. After that the doctors took me out of school, so I was going crazy because I didn't have anything to do. So I took a correspondence course in doll repair. After I finished the correspondence course I wanted painting training in porcelain, so we drove to Toledo for a year, and then after getting my face I started taking seminars through the Doll Artisan Guild, which is out of New York. With that program I went through the whole program and got my master's degree in porcelain doll making.
2. Why did you choose doll making?
I needed something to do. It was a craft, I was always into crafts, and that was a craft and an art form I had never tried before and it sounded like something that would be very interesting to know how the ins and outs worked, and from there it became a career. I don't think when started I was looking at it as a career, but that's what it has evolved into.
3. Do you make the porcelain pieces for each doll?
Yes. There's an artist that sculpts the original work. A company buys the original work from the artist and makes a legal mold. Then we go and we can purchase the legal molds which gives us the right to pour them to make that particular doll. We don't do the sculpting, but we do the pouring and the painting and everything else to make it our own.
4. How long does it take to make a doll?
For my students who come once a week, it's a three- to four-week process, unless they're doing something very detailed. Then it can be a six- to eight-week process, depending on how many multiple firings we take. If I were to sit down and do a doll solid from start to finish it would take me five days straight for a simple doll and eight to 10 for a complicated doll.
5. When making a doll, do you have an end product in mind?
I usually do not. I usually just let it flow. The times you try to know what you're doing ahead of time it changes, and you'll have a girl or a boy instead of what you thought you were going for in the first place. Sometimes you just have to let it talk to you and tell you what it wants to become. My students do a lot of family work to make a doll look like each member of their family. They customize it with their characteristics: their eye color, their hair color, birthmarks, things like that. One of my students is working on a Harry Potter doll, and we did the mark on his forehead.
6. What are your students like?
I have taught 8 year olds to 83 year olds. In the evening classes, it's a lot of middle-aged. In the summer, we bring in the Girl Scout troops and different groups like that, they come in the summer when they don't have things to do. The older ladies or the stay-at-homes come in the morning classes.
7. You also repair dolls. What does that consist of?
We do a lot of re-stringing. The older dolls are strung with rubber bands, and over the years the rubber deteriorates in our weather. So we re-string them and put them back together so the arms and legs and head are all one again. We do a lot of basic cleaning up of the dolls. Sometimes the eyes need reset, and sometimes new bodies are required. And sometimes somebody will bring a doll in and we'll refuse to do anything because its not that bad, and once it's re-done all their antique value is gone. A lot of times we send people right back out the door, ‘You don't want to do this, it's not that bad.'
8. Do you consider doll making an art form?
It's an art form dating back to the 1800s, the dolls that came over from Germany and things like that. It's that craft that has been preserved throughout the decades. It's something that you can customize as an heirloom for your family to pass down from generation to generation. Then it becomes a fight in families, ‘That's the one I want, that's the one I want, because Mom made it, she made that one for me,' and its passed down.
9. Did you like dolls when you were a kid?
No. I was a tomboy. And I didn't take any art in high school that wasn't required. I liked to do crafts and things, but as far as the fine arts, I didn't take that in high school. When I tell my friends I make babies for a living, they're like, ‘What?' It takes some explaining.
10. Are you a doll collector now?
Honestly? I have all boys. I have two sons, an 11-month-old and a 7-year-old, and I have three dolls in my house. It's sort of like, you don't bring it home with you. I have the ones that I make that I love, that I'll never sell, but as far as in my house, it's all tractors and trucks and trains.
An Interview with Doll Maker Fara Ewing