Last year I stumbled on a photograph of an astonishingly lovely porcelain ball jointed doll and my first reaction was that of delight. I was instantly reminded of a childhood memory I'd nearly forgotten. It was early evening, the light slanted low into a shop window, bathing the objects in a golden veil. It was the first time I'd ever seen antique dolls like this, dressed in ancient lace and velvet, their hair braided with pearls, their painted smiles serene. I remember standing with my mother for a long while, studying the beauties and pointing out little details I liked and wondering aloud about who the dolls were and who they once belonged to. I found myself feeling the same way about the doll in the photograph, intrigued, delighted and longing to know more.
As someone who is not new to the doll world ( I love collecting and making them!) I was delighted to see an artist I'd never seen before. I learned the dolls are called 'Angel Egg Dolls' (because the artist imagined the dolls born from the eggs of angels) and are created completely by hand by Marmite Sue, an artist based in Tokyo, Japan. Each doll is created from a set of molds, then hand carved to customize each piece. The parts are then painted with china glazes, each light layer of paint fired in the kiln until the colors are bright and saturated. Porcelain is a delicate material, translucent and fine, a perfect canvas to allow light to diffuse throughout the piece and through the layers of china paint,creating a luminous quality.
While porcelain may be delicate, it is also one of the most enduring substances known. Beautifully glazed pots have survived thousands of years, the glazes as clear today as they were when they emerged from the kiln. The amazing thing about porcelain is the chemical change that occurs during firing, the silica becomes glass, which is then impermeable to stains, discoloration or fading. The idea of how long the dolls will be around is very appealing to me.... I like imagining the world they'll exist in far in the future.
One of the most appealing qualities of an Angel Egg Doll is the options for customization. On a basic doll the faces can be swapped, carved to look completely different and painted with one's choice of makeup. The eyes can be changed from the back of the head, altering the appearance greatly. The wig is removable, so the possibilities for shifting personalities is endless.
Another unique feature Marmite Sue offers with her dolls is the possibility of carved cut outs, or pierce work. This unusual look borrows from porcelain china tea services, where borders are delicately pierced and carved to resemble lace. Little roses can be added to the neck or ankle, as well as beautifully sculpted flowers and swirls. Tattoos can be incised into the clay, so pigment can be rubbed into the surface, like intaglio plates or scrimshaw.
My favorite thing about these dolls is the jointing. They seem very fluid and natural. This appeals to me for a couple of reasons, the main one being that with most forms of sculpture, you experience it from a distance, but these seem to have an interactive, almost intimate quality in that they are the perfect size to hold and pose. The other reason is that these joints seem more human, which to me, is one of the reasons I love dolls in the first place. The imitation of life and the creation of characters and personalities is endlessly interesting to me. I guess that's why I like these dolls so much. They are so different from anything I've ever seen! I've really enjoyed looking at this talented artists work and can't wait to see more.