Polymer clay boy doll holding a puppy stands outside a barn with a pony, calf, and donkey.
Boy with farm animals.

By Wil Peterson

During a nearly 30-year doll-design career, Elizabeth Cooper has unfailingly relied on the same successful formula. First comes inspiration, followed by motivation, perspiration, and when necessary, innovation.

The impressive results are uniquely delightful, one-of-a-kind (OOAK) polymer clay characters that have fascinated generations of devoted collectors. Ranging primarily from 6-inch basic sculpts to more intricate 12-inch dolls, these creations reflect her love of beauty, history, and immigrants.

Photo shows a fanciful fairy house with an open doorway revealing a table with tea set for two and stools on either side. Outside there's a tiny mailbox, laundry line with clothes pinned up to dry, and a small fairy doll sitting with a tiny furry woodland creature.
Fairy House

“What is always interesting to me is how you can take a piece of clay and transform it into something that has a life and story of its own,” Cooper said. “I suppose the mark of success is when someone else appreciates the work and is willing to trade hard-earned money for it. That would be monetary success, which keeps me going, but I am more focused on life success. Sculpting has given me the freedom to create and to work for myself on my own timeline. That, I consider my true success.”

Closeup of the fairy doll outside the fairy house with a small mouse friend.
The Fairy House’s resident with a furry friend.

The ongoing challenges of a pandemic-shaken world haven’t derailed the artist’s creative flow. Based in Medina, New York, Cooper continues to sculpt dolls and makes each accompanying element, from the tops of their wigged heads to the soles of their fabulous footwear. Just don’t expect her to navigate a structured, start-to-finish design path. “I am currently working on new fairies and larger immigrant dolls for 2022. Fairies are approximately 6 inches in height, the immigrants about 12 inches,” she said. “I can only describe the dolls after they are finished, as they change during the sculpting and costuming process.”

"This 6-inch fairy is contemplating what comes next," the artist said.
“This 6-inch fairy is contemplating what comes next,” the artist said.

Following artistic pursuits is a lifelong passion for Cooper, who was born in Medina. Her earliest memories include various examples of creative expression. “Growing up, art materials were commonplace in our home. My father taught art and photography, and if we weren’t watching him paint or sculpt, we were immersed in our own art projects,” she said. “Many of the techniques I have learned as a dollmaker were from that time of observation and encouragement.”

Two 6-inch fairy dolls holding baby mice. One has a fawn standing next to her.
Two 6-inch fairies with baby mice.

After receiving a liberal arts education from Wells College and certification to teach art from Buffalo State College, Cooper initially focused on figurative sculpture. Unexpected exposure to artist dolls quickly prompted a course correction. “I rented a studio space, started with 8 pounds of clay and my mother’s 1954 Singer sewing machine, and began to make dolls. Now, after 30 years of shows, perseverance, and blind ambition, I look back and wonder how I managed in an industry I knew nothing about.”

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Elizabeth Cooper