This week's artist feature is Cindy Sowers
(originally appeared on the ADO blog)
Please tell us about yourself. What is your name? Where do you live? What makes you tick?
My name is Cindy Sowers. I live in rural Vermont, about 20 miles outside of Burlington. What makes me tick? Ideas. I have a million ideas a minute it seems like sometimes. I seem to have either the fortune or the curse of having to act on ideas if they are very persistent. So sometimes I seem to be running around in 20 directions and it looks like I have gone insane, but actually I am really good at multi-tasking :) I talk to myself a lot. It drives my husband crazy, I think :0
When did you start making dolls? Why did you start making dolls?
I started making dolls at about age 12. My first doll was from a pattern back in, what, 1974? It was Hollie Hobbie. I remember having to steam the curls in her hair. Is anyone in this group even old enough to remember Hollie Hobbie? Gosh, I bet not. After that, for an American History class in middle school, I had to do a project. I made a flag out of velvet, modeled after the Betsy Ross original flag and also I made 2 apple-core head dolls. That was a hoot. They had to hang in my grandmother’s water heater closet for like a month, and I kept putting sulphur powder on them so they wouldn’t rot and stink. I don’t think I have ever seen anything that wrinkly! They turned out really good, though, actually. I have sewn all my life. I went to a fashion design college in Los Angeles when I was in my early 20s. As a grownup, I started making dolls when I was pregnant with my second child, back in 2000. Before that I had had a business making fabric collage portraits, but they were monstrous. I actually did pretty well with that, but some were as big as 5 x 5 feet, and there were a million pieces to deal with. My oldest child was 2 at the time and I just couldn’t keep all the pieces straight. I decided I needed something that was more manageable and could be put up and away when necessary. Once I made the first doll, that was it, I was hooked.
Who or what influences you? Inspires you?
I am inspired by stories. Stories people tell me, stories I hear, things I dream up. I am big on dreams in general, and a lot of times I dream things and pull them into reality here if I can. Lately I have been making historical dolls, which have been, for the most part, of rather obscure characters. I did an Ambrose Bierce doll recently, and many people are not aware of who that is. He was considered a literary genius in the early 1900’s. His story is out of this world. He disappeared without a trace after traveling through Mexico with Pancho Villa. That was what inspired me to make him, his story. Good stories leave a trace. People with good stories, you can tell who they are.
The most inspiring story I have run into lately is that of Randy Pausch. For anyone who hasn’t listened to his Last Lecture at Carnegie Mellon, please, do yourself a favor and watch it. He died of pancreatic cancer a year or 2 back, but gave it a heck of a fight. His lecture is all about doing what you love and having fun:
Just an amazing story.
Tell us a little about your dolls and your process for making them. Materials, preliminary sketches, inspiration, etc.
My dolls to this point are strictly cloth, meaning the body and face, and most of the costuming is entirely fabric. I am not a great sculptor. I haven’t got the knack for clay. But, I want my dolls to have something “real” about them, so I have taken to painting the faces as realistically as I can, so that they look 3-dimensional, even though they are completely flat. My bodies are usually done on some sort of wire armature, though not always. I try to use natural fibers as much as possible. I don’t sketch them up first, but I don’t use any sort of patterns either, and I am horrible about keeping records or keeping track, so usually I am inventing the wheel time after time. I have gotten a little better in that I often now will draw up a body on a stiff paper and make 2 copies just in case it turns out and I want to repeat the process. Clothing and that, I will sometimes draw up a pattern for a basic jacket or shirt or something and modify that with each doll as I need to, but usually, again, I am working from scratch. My personality is such that once I have made something and it is done, I have no idea how I did it and I couldn’t repeat it if I wanted to. I think as I go, and I am good on the spot. Everything is pretty much one of a kind in its entirety, because I am just that bad at keeping records. Lately, I usually have an idea of an actual historical person I want to re-create, so lucky for me, the internet abounds with photos and paintings of the actual person and I work generally from a photo or painting of that person’s face. The costuming is just stuff I make up that I think that character would have possibly worn. I try to stay fairly true to historical time periods. I am doing a Ben Franklin doll at the moment. I have him in green, which I don’t see in the available portraits of him. I imagine he would have worn green, though, as it was a color of the time.
Do you have a favorite doll? It can be handmade by you, handmade by someone else, or even (gasp) mass production.
My mother had a set of about 20 dolls that were made prior or right around the time of WWII that are pretty much made of painted metal, if you can imagine. They had beautiful hair and costumes, and as a child I drug them out over and over. They couldn’t really be “played” with, same as art dolls today, but they had stories, I’ll tell you. My own dolls, I love for about a month, and then I start seeing flaws everywhere. Best to get them out of the house quick!
Besides making dolls, what do you do? Job, other creative pursuits, hobbies, etc.
Well, I live in Vermont, so in order to get through the winters, you have to ski or do some sort of activity involving snow, so I ski. My kids ski. My husband snowboards. I have 2 boys under the age of 12, and they are homeschooled. We are very loose and it is a lot more in line with unschooling than any sort of “school at home,” so I’m not sitting around giving lessons or anything too much. They are home with me day in and day out, though, so I have a lot of family time. Our family motto is more or less “Do What You Love” or what it fun for you and that is your life. We try not to spend too much time doing stuff we don’t like, though I have found I truly loathe domestic stuff (cleaning, cooking, laundry, you name it), and I don’t do much of it and there are consequences :) My house is a bit of a mess, frankly, and we eat whatever we can dig out from the back of the fridge it seems sometimes. We raise our kids to do what they love, too. My kids are into tech things, and I have had to learn a lot of stuff I never imagined I’d be delving into, like hacking games. Lately my kids have got me into learning computer animation on free software called “Alice” from Carnegie Mellon. I just ordered a book on Amazon and I am hoping to learn something I never would have thought I’d try. It would be easier for me if they liked making dolls, but no dice. My husband works at home a couple days a week, so we have a lot of time just being around each other and hanging out as a group. I have a night job, doing medical transcription, which I have had for over 20 years. I don’t think about it too much, and it is easy for me, but it takes up a chunk. I also have quite an email life. I have friends and extended family that email me lots during the day, and I am quite a wordy person, so that can be quite extensive. I have dogs and sheep. I garden. I like to see live music with my husband and kids. I usually keep busy.
What are some of your favorite: movies, books, websites, magazines, foods, tv shows? (Any or all!)
My memory for specific details, like titles and authors and actors, is just awful. Really, really awful. I could have come back from the movies an hour ago and could not tell you what the name of the movie was, nor who was in it. My ability to string together concepts and make connections, though, is really good. I guess that is having a conceptual knack and lacking the knack for detail, which has its problems. My favorite author, though, is Joseph Campbell, not because of his writing style or anything like that, but because of his concepts. I love comparative mythology. I love the stories and the dreams of people throughout the ages, and seeing how they have evolved and changed as they have moved through the world.
My true loves outside of my family and my creative life are music (my husband is a musician and one of my nephews has taken on that life as well) and coffee houses, which go together in my mind. I think coffee houses are really, really important in American culture, and there never are enough coffee houses.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I’m pretty happy in Vermont, actually. I have lived in cities (Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Diego, San Francisco) most of my life. I have been in the country now for nearly 7 years. It is something different and I have gotten quite used to it. Sometimes I think the winters are too much, but luckily I like to ski.
Where do you see yourself in one year? Five years? Ten years?
I’m not a planner really. I fly by the seat of my pants as often as I can ;) I imagine I’ll be doing whatever I am inspired to do whenever I am inspired to do it. If an idea hits me, that’s where I go. If I knew the ending ahead of time, the story would be boring and I wouldn’t want to read it.
Where can we find you on the internet? (blog, website, Etsy shop, eBay, et al.)