Program, Photos and Summary by Pat Dutchman
Here are the stories of two women, native to different areas of this country, but with very similar loves of family, church and art; two entrepreneurs, with successful businesses. Both Susan and Karen created beautiful dolls, in totally opposite mediums, made here in the U.S.A.
Origins: Born in 1944 to a family of 8 in mid-state Oregon “The Beaver State”, she is the great-great granddaughter of pioneers who followed the Oregon Trail in 1847. The family farm, surrounded by forests, brought time & space for Susan to play cowboys, swim, help with farm chores, attend church, sing and always be seen holding a doll.
Early milestones: In 1959 she became a beautician; 1963 she married Jack; 1964 became a new mother; and moved to Cottage Grove where Jack began his dental practice. Still working, she pursued her artistic nature with Stained Glass, Oil Painting, China and Glass Painting. Then a friend introduced her to doll making and she was hooked.
Doll Beginnings: Wishing to understand the human form for doll making, she took college courses of classical sculpture, figure studies, anatomy & anthropology. Around 1976 she began making dolls at home starting with Antique Reproductions and soon had a thriving kitchen business making reproduction Jumeaux and Brus.
Dunham Arts: It was clear it was time to move from kitchen table to a professional business.
The property eventually had 10 buildings and a 1,700 sq. ft. showroom and they hired dozens of local seamstresses & wig makers, plus a local mold-maker. Susan sculpted the originals, designed the clothing and did the final porcelain painting. She still researches every subject before starting a new project. Everything is historically correct with proper colors, fabrics, furs, feathers, beading and leathers in the styles of their represented periods. She became an active member of UFDC & ODACA, teaching doll making classes and published a sculpting book. Her talents went beyond porcelain as she created wonderful bronze busts as well.
Farewell: After 9/11 and the collectible market decline, Susan and Jack did not wish to produce dolls in China for cost savings. So they shut down the business and moved to Eugene, Oregon for retirement, near ocean and mountains.
Today: Now she is more “at leisure” and has more time for family, friends, church, fundraisers and enjoying the grandchildren. Susan is still very active with her Eugene, Oregon doll club and an online French Fashion club. She has many customers looking to buy her exquisite dolls.
Origins: Born 1949 in Dallas, Texas, the “Lone Star state” to a family of 6 and raised in Austin, Karen enjoyed playing cowboys and Indians on the prairie. She had no dolls herself but played with her sister’s Storybook dolls.
Early milestones: In 1975 she married Brent, her high school sweetheart and had two boys. In the 1970’s and 1980’s she was able to follow her artistic dream of interior design and decorative arranging. In 1985 she and Brent began an operation of wholesale collectibles made by Texan artists. They became very familiar with marketing, sales, handling and shipping. This led to Karen designing kitchenware, pottery and decorative items.
Doll Beginnings: To complement their business, in 1987 Karen began sculpting with Super Sculpey, and liked what she produced. She had the critter sculptures made into molds and poured in resin and they tested the waters at a few large collectible shows. Kitty Kat, Rose Rabbit, Mamie the Pig and Abigail Cow were a hit!
Daddy’s Long Legs: In 1989 they introduced their new business. Along with the animals were a cowboy, Native American and an African-American doll named Nettie. Karen wanted to produce black dolls looking like black dolls, not white dolls painted black. With their very favorable response, they expanded the business. The Staff: Karen creating the sculptures, Brent in sales and manufacturing, a mold maker to convert clay into resin, 2 master dressmakers and 95 seamstresses; everyone local and quite a cottage industry.
Business Booming: They had a large following of customers and fans all over the world including many famous black celebrities like Oprah, Whoopi Goldberg, Gladys Knight and Bill Cosby. Karen hosted 3 bi-annual conventions, gave tours, sold their products on QVC and was featured in Life and most doll collecting and hobby magazines. In the mid 1990’s a successful line of figurines called Keepsakes was launched to compliment the main line of dolls.
Farewell: After 9/11 people wished to simplify life. The hunger for the huge quantities of collectibles began to wane, along with the pressure to take the business overseas to produce cheaper made products. Instead Karen and Brent made the hard decision to close the business in 2003, said goodbye to their employees and retired.
Today: She is proud to say she is a true Texas “Bluebonnet” thru and thru, a lifelong Texan. In Southlake, Texas near Dallas, they now have the freedom to spoil 5 grandchildren, travel and keep active with friends and church.
Thank you Pat D. for an excellent program!