By Pam North
Nefer Kane was born, raised, and still resides on the French Riviera, next to the village where Picasso lived and about a mile away from Renoir’s house. “I am not in the big city of Nice,” she explained. “My place is more countryside, which I prefer, because I need nature around me. I hope one day I can have a house with more land near a forest.”
As a child, Kane said, she was a tomboy and didn’t play with dolls, so her relatives still can’t believe that she became a dollmaker! She sculpts ball-jointed dolls (BJDs), has them produced in resin by a factory, and sells them through preorders. “I used to make one-of-a-kind (OOAK) dolls in the beginning of my career, but BJDs are a huge amount of work, so I cannot make both anymore,” Kane said. “Sometimes, once a year or every two years, I make a OOAK piece though. I also started to make creatures without joints (a supernatural familiar if you wish), so that everyone can afford a sculpt by me, which I arrange for production by my factory to sell as limited editions.”
She has two sons, who she raised on her own. “My elder son entered law school at age 16; he is now 19. My younger son is 17, and he is severely autistic — he is a toddler lost in a giant’s body. I had an elder brother, but he passed away at age 22. I also live with and care for my parents, but I can do it thanks to my work in the doll field.”
Kane has complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), a condition which combines symptoms of PTSD with additional symptoms, such as difficulty controlling one’s emotions and feeling angry or distrustful towards the world. Her work compensates for some of that distress. “Whenever and whatever I sculpt, it is a feeling I cannot express another way. Like everyone who has CPTSD, I know I cannot truly fit into the world, so I make one of my own.”
She previously had a career as a professional translator. “I taught myself how to speak English at age 14. I always have dreamed of being an author, but it didn’t come to fruition. It’s now different in that field, thanks to self-publishing on Amazon, so I don’t rule out writing anymore.”
The constraints of the pandemic, coupled with her desire to bring delight to her friends all over the world, led to Kane taking a break to write her first book on sculpting, which she will self-publish on Amazon. The theme of “The Craftorium of Professor Kane” is creating amusing and original figures, such as her Mutant Marshmallows, at the lowest cost possible so that everyone can afford to make some of their own “I hope it’ll make enough people happy so that there can be more Craftorium books — maybe one day even a BJD dollmaking book!”
Kane has mastered many materials and techniques in her artistic endeavors, as she explained: “For the BJDs, I use paper clay to sculpt my prototype. For creatures and the book’s projects, I use polymer clay. That said, I know how to sculpt with plasticine, epoxy, porcelain, and earthen clays. I also make porcelain dolls, porcelain BJDs, or creatures. I mold in plaster, silicone, latex, and cast my work in porcelain, air-dry slip, resins, and so on. I made a reborn kit, Barnabe, that has been produced in vinyl, and for a baby troll, I used paper clay and polymer clay to sculpt the prototype.”
Improvisation is a key to Kane’s development in her craft. “Even today, I improvise most of the time. I never really know what I am going to sculpt, so I don’t make plans before I start a doll,” she said. Inspiration is another important facet of her work, and she finds much of that in people. “I think human beings are an endless source of revelations and wonderment. There’s nothing more amazing than sitting on a bench by the street and looking at people while listening to music.
“There are so many emotions and intensities in the human mind. I think that I sculpt into my dolls the feelings I cannot speak about, and in that process I also create a world that fits me better all around. I am lucky to have found so many people who enjoy my dolls, enabling me to continue surviving with my coping mechanism of needing to talk via my clay.
“I started out by making dragons and slugs (yes, I actually did slugs; they were very funny!) and moved on to make complicated BJDs. Rather than evolving, I think it is truer to say that while I try my best to constantly move forward, I also never leave behind any part of my work, from the worst to the best pieces, because each of them tells my story; they all are a part of who I am.”
Kane has appropriated a makeshift work area where she does her crafting “I traded a dining table in my living room for a desk, which is cluttered with tons of sculpting supplies, just like the big cupboard next to it. I usually take what I am currently working on with me to the couch at night and work from the big coffee table, which happens to be a giant trunk in which I store all my painting supplies.”
Although she sells most of her products through her website, some are sold via email — when collectors ask her for something and she has it, she gladly will do it that way as well. She also has a Facebook group, Collectors of Nefer Kane Dolls, and she sells there occasionally.
While sculpting gives her the most satisfaction in her work, another important facet is the love and support of her friends, her collectors, and her fans around the world. “Nothing else can measure up to that, actually,” she said. “I have marvelous friends all over the planet who care about me and my family. It’s been more than 13 years now, but I must say that I still am in absolute awe of their devotion; it’s profoundly touching!
“People have come to the realization, thanks to the internet, that artist-made collectibles are not reserved only for the elite. I think that for pretty much everyone, no matter what class we are part of, we are living in a very difficult era, and not only because of the pandemic. People greatly need happiness, and some of that joy is in whatever art form we make.
“They don’t buy less if we allow them flexible layaways, which I’ve always done, so it really hasn’t changed for me. Often our dolls are expensive, mostly due to our production costs (whether from a factory or hand-casting at home), and the material is very expensive itself, so there’s nothing we can do about those realities. I dream to be able to sell them for much lower prices, but this simply is not possible.
“Molds cost several hundred dollars, and that bill increases with the dolls’ sizes, number of joints, and so on. A producing dollmaker like me has to pay thousands of dollars for a preorder; it even can reach a five-figure bill sometimes to order the dolls. We have to pay taxes, customs fees, bags, costs for eyes, PayPal fees, boxes, packing materials — it truly takes a small fortune each time. Still I dream that everyone who wants a piece of my work will be able to afford it.
“Most of my collectors are friends to me as well. It’s beyond the dolls; whether they buy then or not, we share our lives. We support one another when times are hard, and we cheer when one is happy, because we are a tribe. Some would say community, but I truly see us as a tribe, with the raw instinct to gather around the bonfire, created by our shared passion for my dolls, so the night is warmer and merrier.”
Looking ahead, Kane has multiple plans for her creations: “More clay, more sculpts, more BJDs, more creatures, and, depending on how the one I presently am working on is welcomed by the public, more books!”