Artist and dollmaker Nancy Wiley admits to having very focused goals, even from a very young age. “I was very single minded from the time I was little,” she said. “Drawing and making things was all I did.”
But as she pursued an education in illustration (she graduated from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design), she always saw herself becoming a children’s book illustrator. “I really love fairy tales and children’s literature,” said Wiley, 48. She especially admired the work of illustrators Arthur Rackham and Maurice Sendak.
“My artistic journey has certainly followed a circuitous route,” Wiley added, who lives in Canandaiga, N.Y., with her husband and two children. “I was sidetracked — it was a good sidetracking — from my initial interest in children’s illustration when I apprenticed after school with my brother, William Wiley [the late doll artist]. He was really passionate about making dolls. Bill encouraged me to try ‘his’ medium, and I was captivated. A whole world opened up to me. I hadn’t realized how artistic you could be.”
Wiley’s love of illustration isn’t lost on her dolls — in fact, her two most recent projects have seamlessly married her interest in both fairy tales and dollmaking. In 2009 she merged those interests when she created hand-painted, limited-edition dolls based on the characters in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” then photographed them to illustrate her own hardcover edition of Carroll’s book.
“I just really wanted to try the illustration,” she recalled. “Since I had been doing the dolls for 20 years, I thought I’d combine the two.” Wiley said the 88-page “Alice” book — featuring handmade dolls of Alice, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts, the Duchess, the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit — took about a year to complete (you can watch a video of Wiley creating her book illustrations at www.wonderlandbook.com/illustrations.html and in this issue’s digital edition).
“When I photographed my work to serve as illustrations for [the Alice book], I felt I had come full circle,” Wiley said. After her success with that book and doll collection, Wiley’s work took a Grimm turn, as she created dolls and an accompanying book based on the Brothers Grimm tale “Little Red Riding Hood.” “I wanted to do a simpler one for the second story,” she said.
Her research began last summer, when she visited the Adirondacks and took pictures of forest scenes — including shots of her 6-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, roaming the woods in a red hooded sweatshirt. “Red Riding Hood” features the heroine as an 11-inch hand-painted cast resin doll. The daunting “Wolf,” with his menacing eyes, is made in the same medium and measures 13 inches. In Wiley’s book, the dolls are photographed against backdrops to set the scenes. “I make the characters first, then I paint a backdrop on canvas. This particular story was supposed to look like a stage play,” Wiley said. Wiley published both children’s books herself, with computer design assistance from Florida doll artist Chris Chomick.
Next up for Wiley, a longtime member of the National Institute of American Doll Artists (NIADA), is her interpretation of Charles Perrault’s tale “Cinderella” — probably for 2013. “I want it to be very over-the-top,” she said, adding that she’s particularly interested in designing a fabulous coach for Cinderella. Down the road, Wiley said, she’d love to do more book-related projects, maybe even an original tale. “I’m not ready yet,” she concluded.
See more of Nancy Wiley’s work at www.nancywiley.com.
Of Note …
Among Nancy Wiley’s buzzworthy clientele are novelist Anne Rice and actors Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, and Demi Moore. In fact, Moore was so taken with Wiley’s work that in 1996, she tapped Wiley to design the costume she wore on the cover of the now-defunct magazine “George.” You can see the image by searching Google images for “Demi Moore and George magazine.”
Wiley will also present a solo show at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y., displaying her “Red Riding Hood” book layout as well as the dolls. The show will run from mid-October to January 2013. For more information, visit www.museumofplay.org.