Local artist featured in New York City art showPublished 10:38am Wednesday, November 19, 2014
For over a decade, Dowagiac’s Alice Swann was one the city’s go-to tailors, performing alterations, repairs and other essential sewing needs for local customers.
Today, she continues to grind away on the sewing machine, but with a much smaller customer in mind — several inches small, to be exact.
Earlier this month, the tailor turned doll maker’s work was featured in a special art exhibit in New York City. Entitled the “Harlem Aesthetic,” Swann’s assortment of cloth and wooden dolls were on display, shown alongside the works of two other doll artists from Washington D.C. and Baltimore.
“It was fun,” Swann said. “I sold a lot of dolls, and I got to meet a lot of new interesting artists. I think I did really good for a small town girl like myself.”
Growing up in the Grand Old City, Swann left the Midwest shortly after graduating from Dowagiac Union High School to pursue a career in fashion design in California. It was while attending college on the west coast that she first discovered the world of doll making, after listening to a guest lecture from a woman who designed clothing for the ubiquitous Barbie line of dolls. Though she was never a big fan of the mass-produced toys growing up, the design and process that went into creating miniatures fascinated her, Swann recalled thinking at the time.
After moving back to Dowagiac and working in the custom tailor field for 11 years, Swann finally seized the opportunity to begin creating little creations of her own, drawing on her years of experience in design, sewing and crafting.
“[Tailoring] felt more a job to me than artistry,” she said. “When I make my dolls, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like fun.”
Swann started off by creating dolls from cloth material, similar to the classic Raggedy Ann style dolls popular during the early 20th century. While she still creates these kind of works, she has began to invest more of her time and energy into carving them from blocks of wood, giving them a more defined bodies and faces.
Besides their handmade origin, what separates the works created by doll artists like Swann from the plastic toys found in retail stores is their individuality, the artist said. The Dowagiac resident said her dolls have different faces, hairstyles, and clothing, so every customer can be assured they’re receiving a one-of-a-kid product.
“It’s like how we are as people,” she said. “No two people are alike, so none of my dolls are alike either.”
While still a rather niche field, Swann said that, compared to other forms of art, doll making is perhaps the closest medium someone can use to capture the essence of what it is to be human.
“I’m capturing what’s happening in my life today, and 200 years later someone may see that,” she said.
People interested in learning more about Swann’s work can check her page on Etsy.com or her blog at http://www.fabricholicdollmaker.blogspot.com.