It’s not an understatement to say that Jo Sammons’ creations feed her soul. A lifelong devotee of expressing herself through artwork and artistry, Sammons gravitated to a full-time career as a doll artist relatively recently. Prior to that, she pur­sued work in the field of restaurant management and as a dietitian. How ironic, then, that these jobs that revolved around food, eating, and calorie intake did nothing to fill up her emo­tional emptiness. She was starving for self-expression, and the dolls came to her creative rescue.

“I think clinical nutrition is as far from dollmaking as you can get. I am so happy I chose this path instead. Creating these little characters is like therapy to me; it keeps me sane in a not-so-sane world and allows me to make other people happy,” Sam­mons said.

Even though Sammons had grown up drawing and illustrat­ing, she didn’t have full confidence in her ability to pursue a career in this difficult and daunting realm. Likewise, she had always loved to collect dolls, but she had never put together the fact that real-life artists conjure up these figural works of art. Four years ago, it dawned on her that she had the talent and the inclination to join these cutting-edge mavericks. “When I start­ed seeing all these amazing dolls in all different styles on Pinter­est, I was filled with excitement and knew that was my calling. I started making dolls in 2020 and I have learned that it is very hard. I have had to learn hairdressing, sculpting, anatomy, sew­ing, garment-making, photography, editing, social media mar­keting, and many, many more skills. All my dolls are made from a combination of air-dry clay, wire, fabrics, acrylic paints, chalk pastels, varnish and embellishments, and hollow fiber filling, if they are soft-bodied. I have also learned how absolutely joyful the experience is and how rewarding it is when someone shares your weird vision and connects with a little creation that has taken hours upon hours to make. I absolutely love my job.”

Sammons pursues her sculpting passion in the town of Northampton in the United Kingdom. “In 913, the town was the capital of England and remained so for 200 years. In more recent history, it was famous for shoe production and was fea­tured in the film Kinky Boots. Unfortunately, the town is now very run-down and not a very nice place to live at all. However, we have many beautiful, quaint villages and stunning country­side surrounding us,” Sammons said.

The artist immerses herself daily in memories of favorite movies, preferred bedtime tales, and the mythology of outsid­ers who yearn to be accepted and loved. Consider the story of Frankenstein’s Monster, who was ostracized and feared on sight because of his piecemeal appearance, and the plight of all liter­ary vampires who must wait to be invited in by nervous and suspicious humans. Both of these famous “villain” types inspire Sammons: “I am heavily influenced by films I watched as a child, such as The NeverEnding Story; Krull; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; as well as Hammer horror films, like Dracula and Frankenstein. Vampires are one of my favorite types of doll to create. I love fairy tales and their dark origins that are funny, but often somewhat disturbing and quite gruesome.”

gargoyle doll
This gray gargoyle manages to be stoic and simultaneously pleading. The 10-inch (26 cm) Gamgee displays the artist’s love of surprising emotions beneath the surface.
Sidney, 12 inches (30 cm), is a dashing gentleman doll. “I literally didn’t know that ‘art dolls’ existed until 2019. Once I learned about them, I knew this was my calling,” Sammons said.
Wearing a pale-pink dress and sporting Maleficent-style horns, Minerva is about 17 inches (43.5 cm).
Fen is a mystical, mythical creature of nature. The seated faun measures 22 inches (56 cm).
Keka is adorable and otherworldly. The creature measures 13.8 inches (35 cm).

Throughout her life, Sammons has identified with these characters that reside outside the norm. She has felt alone and different and has developed a deep sympathy for other people — and characters — who are often excluded, dismissed, or de­spised. “All my life, I have been considered weird/unusual and I have felt like a lost soul. I have never fit in and people have always judged me based on appearance. As an artist, I get to create anything I want, and the types of dolls I make are very much a visual representation of my weirdness. My dolls are curious, peculiar little misfits. I wanted a business name that reflected this. I didn’t like the way ‘Lost Souls Dolls’ sounded, so I searched for that term in different languages. One site gave me the word ‘Damnato,’ which I think was Latin. I liked this, so that was where my company name came from: Damnato Dolls.”

The characters and creatures that populate Sammons’ stu­dio are a quirky and compelling group. They straddle the in-between chasm of being sinister yet sweet, scary but sincere. This dual nature is quite deliberate. “I like to create dolls that may give off a visually misleading appearance,” Sammons said. “For instance, some of my creatures may look creepy or evil, but I always imagine them to have shy, sweet little personalities that you would only discover if you took the time to get to know them. As I mentioned, I’ve never fit in, which has given me a real empathy for those that are different or misunderstood.”

Fortunately for Sammons, there are many collectors who share her commiseration with the forgotten and the misbegot­ten. Her clients appreciate her dolls’ physicality and the psy­chology behind them. “People that are into fantasy, horror, Hal­loween, and fairy tales tend to be drawn to my dolls. My dolls also have a lot of character in their faces and lifelike eyes, which people are drawn to. I think a lot of people like a bit of weird, creepy, magical escapism, and my dolls encapsulate that,” the artist said. “I would describe the style of my dolls as a humorous blend of whimsical fantasy, with a magical, dark twist.”

Friend or foe? You can make that decision. Myrtle is a 14.6-inch (37 cm) witch with a floral fashion sense.
Dramatic in her ruby-red garment, Lady Augustine is 16.5 inches (42 cm) of gothic glamour.

In addition to the rave reviews from her customers, Sam­mons’ own family is impressed with her outpourings and creative outlet. She said, “I live with my husband, two young children, and my dad. They are all very supportive. My dad has really helped me financially, buying a lot of materials in the past. My husband is absolutely great, and he keeps the children oc­cupied while I work all hours and cheers me up when I am feel­ing overwhelmed, overlooked, and like it’s all pointless. My little children love my dolls, especially the really creepy ones. They want to keep most of them. My eldest children are happy I’m finally doing something I like, as I spent their childhood being unhappy at work. And my mom has a little collection of my dolls, too, and would probably buy all of them if she could.”

In her youth, Sammons’ family complimented her art, but she said they “weren’t massively interested in anything I did, and art was never anything I intended to do as an adult, for I wanted to be an actress. I stopped bothering with art when my mom threw out all my best artworks, which I had been collecting over the years. I kind of felt that if no one else appreciated what I was doing, then it was pointless. However, I wish I had contin­ued, for now I struggle to draw as well as I used to, and I don’t seem to have the imagination I previously had for drawing.”

It took a great deal of self-guidance, self-educating, and self-nurturing for Sammons to restore her faith in her creative skills and to mine her artistic abilities. She had to rediscover her ar­tistic self-worth, and she hopes to become a beacon for other aspiring artists in the new year.

“Everything I have learned has been from meticulously studying photos of dolls or watching tutorials on YouTube. I also bought all the Dorote Zaukaite e-books, which are amaz­ing. In 2024, you will see the start of my YouTube channel, where I will be posting behind-the-scenes footage, tutorials, and backstories for all my dolls. Themes I’ll be exploring will be dark circus, birds, and love. I’ll also be creating some fan art dolls from Stranger Things, Beetlejuice, and Alice in Wonder­land,” Sammons said.

Acknowledging all she has accomplished over the past four years, Sammons is grateful to finally be forging the path she was always meant to follow. Her new chapter as a doll artist is every­thing she could have envisioned and more: “There was an Etsy review that really touched me. It said, ‘So lovely! I was having a not good holiday at all and this arrived on Christmas Eve! It made me so happy! Beautiful!’ Imagine cheering someone up at Christmas! The best compliment you can get is when one of your creations has the power to totally change someone’s mood for the better — that’s priceless.”

What’s behind Mona Lisa’s smile? Collectors might ask the same thing about the “creepy smirk” of Dahlia. This mysterious creation is distinguished by her black hair and her costume’s silver roses. She measures 25.2 inches (64 cm).
Measuring 20 inches (50 cm), Olli looks as if he belongs in a tale by the Brothers Grimm or a pastoral fantasy play by Shakespeare.