Fourteen years ago, award-winning doll artist Collette Hatch was looking for ways to keep a positive outlook. After being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, and living with the fear of a recurrence, her normal optimism needed a boost. She saw a picture of an art doll online, which led her to contact Jack Johnston and enroll in one of his classes. “Sculpting became a very happy place for me,” Hatch said. “Luckily my cancer was caught early. It’s a scary journey, but today I am cancer-free and I continue to enjoy creating my one-of-a-kind (OOAK) art dolls.”
In 2019, Hatch entered the Dolls Awards of Excellence for the first time. Her witch doll Evalena not only won an Industry’s Choice award in the One-Of-A-Kind Fantasy category, she went on to win the Public’s Choice award, as well. Johnston’s encouragement was pivotal in her decision to enter.
“Jack has been an amazing mentor — he’s always encouraged me,” Hatch said. “I’ve noticed that as my style develops, something will ‘click’ on a particular doll, and then I’d notice things would change in my style on my next doll. When I made Evalena, something clicked. I took that doll to Jack, to show him my progress, and he said, ‘Collette, you really need to enter that doll.’ And I said, ‘Really?’ I didn’t think I was at that level yet, but I said, ‘Eh, OK.’ And I never expected in my wildest dreams that I would ever win.”
Finding her focus
While Hatch enjoyed art from a young age, it hadn’t been something she pursued as a career. She works fulltime as an administrative assistant and sculpts in her free time. “I’ve dabbled in art my whole life, even took some commercial art classes, but I couldn’t stay focused on one thing until I started making art dolls,” she said. “I love all forms of art, but my favorite, by far, is working with polymer clay. Art dolls challenged me — I wanted to be better. For a long time, I’d compare myself to artists who’d been sculpting for 20 or 30 years and finally realized I can’t do that. Along the way I’ve learned different things that work for me.”
At first, Hatch said, she’d try to force the clay to fit the image she’d envisioned. “I tried to make a pretty lady, but it ended up looking like an old man. I learned to go where it takes me — I just let the sculpt flow. I like making little old ladies and Santas, because their faces have all the lines and creases that you don’t get with a ‘pretty’ doll. But I like both. I never know what I’m going to get when I start sculpting.
“Every place I look there’s an art doll, from the little old lady out walking her dog to the cashier at the grocery store. When I’m sculpting, I draw on the pictures I’ve stored in my brain. All the different nuances in their faces, the delightful expressions and lines in their faces. I’ve had people say, ‘that looks just like my Aunt Edna’ or ‘that looks just like my grandma.’ I do have a sweet witch doll that looks just like my husband’s mom. And that was truly an accident — I’ve looked at her face probably hundreds of times and then one day I was sculpting and she just came out.
“She’d passed away many years before, and when I made that doll my husband said, ‘oh my gosh, that looks like my mom!’ And sure enough, it does. I wasn’t planning it. I named it after her, using her middle name, Merle. I still have it, because my husband said, ‘That’s my doll — it looks like my mom, you can’t sell that one!’
“I have so many ideas for dolls that I want to do,” Hatch said, adding that she wants to create some Old West-themed dolls — a mountain man, native Americans, and some cowboys. She is also working on a series of pretty ladies representing the four seasons. “My ultimate goal is to share what I’ve learned with other artists; other people who want to go through the same journey that I’ve been on.”