When Hildegard Günzel began to make an undeniable name for herself in the United States, back in the 1980s, her Germanic-sounding name, with its many syllables and alphabet soup appearance, was a tongue-twisting nightmare. Many folks wondered whether Günzel would anglicize her moniker, reduce its difficulty, and make it easier on the Yankee palate. True to herself and to her origins, Hildegard Günzel maintained that her public would come to embrace her lyrical works and her wordy first and last names. She was right. Today, her name rolls off the tongue; it has become synonymous with excellence, beauty and regality. When collectors talk about dolls that are ethereal and realistic, lovely and refined, they more often than not allude to Günzel.
“She is the Rolls Royce of doll artists,” Arlene Litzenberg, of Arlene’s Dolls & Collectibles, in Butler, Pa., observes. “People who purchase her dolls are discerning and have a love of quality. They are truly the cream of the crop. They are expensive, that’s true,” Litzenberg affirms, “but they are designed for the quality buyer, not the quantity buyer.”
The notion of Günzel’s originals being a rarity, an expensive bird of paradise for the lucky few, is quite accurate. Her wax-over-porcelain young ladies are museum quality, and their limited status and price tag make them a Holy Grail for many collectors. Imagine, then, the excitement that charged through the collectibles world when the artist announced she would be creating a resin line for 2006. “I think the price of these dolls will make a difference,” Günzel states, “and I think the collectors who will be drawn to the resin ones are more interested in ‘playing’ or handling the dolls. I think more movable dolls—my resin ones will have heads that move— are attractive to these types of collectors, and I also believe some children will be treated to these dolls. They will be more ‘hand-able,’ and they will bring in a new generation of collectors.”
When DOLLS magazine broke this announcement to a host of shop owners across the country, the proprietors were thrilled by the new foray into resin. Charlene Werderman, of Charlene’s Dolls & Collectibles in Rancho Cordova, Calif., is delighted with this news.
“There is a timeless beauty to her sculptures,” Werderman elaborates. “She has a signature style, just like a painter or an illustrator. When you see her dolls’ faces and their eyes, you know it is a Günzel. If she says she is in charge of the resin and assuring the quality of this medium, you know these are going to be state-of-the-art. This will be such a welcome piece of news for collectors who have always wanted to buy, but couldn’t afford or commit to such a purchase.”
Günzel seconds Werderman’s observation; she promises to be extremely hands-on in the selection and quality control of the resin breakthrough. “If I could not be absolutely happy with the end results, I would not begin this project,” Günzel asserts. “The color I chose for the dolls is very, very life-like, and the resin really does have a close look to the wax-over-porcelains. I admit I fell in love when I first saw it.”
“Hildegard always uses top-of-the- line products,” relates Susan Anderson, of Children of the Heart. The East Lansing, Mich., dealer has been an admirer and retailer of Günzel’s creations for many years. “Her wax-over-porcelain work is heirloom quality. The resin ones will be a departure, I am sure, but will still be recognized as coming from her. You can tell an artist’s work, and even if these new dolls are more contemporarily dressed, there will be the certain something that makes it a Hildegard original.”
Having trained as a fashion and jewelry designer at the German School for Fashion Design, in Munich, Günzel found her calling as a doll artist who specialized in an old-fashioned otherworldliness. Even if her dolls were not labeled as “bygone” or “nostalgic,” there was always something long ago and faraway about their fashion sense and exquisite demeanor. They truly embodied the notion of “past perfect.” The resin dolls are a welcome departure. They will be hallmarked by their up-to-date costumes and attitude. “There is going to be a much more modern, daily fashion design,” Günzel shares. “These dolls are going to be very contemporary. Take the doll ‘Doreen,’ for example. She is going to be fresh and modern. She will be the pert little girl who lives next door. It is a real change from what people might expect from me.”
Günzel acknowledges that many collectors hold her past accomplishments as legacies, masterpieces of a sort that are to be respected and revered, not touched and held. “Many people see the wax-over-porcelain as exquisite and almost like antique dolls. They are expected to be very elegant and romantic. They are supposed to be timelessly old-fashioned.”
For the resin dolls, she is psyched to be “forward-thinking” and “with it.” Her dolls and their meticulously designed clothing will make real children green with envy; back-to-school fashions have never looked so good.
“I always use pictures of children I know for my facial designs. This makes them unique and different, and more exciting for the collector. I don’t want to make variations of the same basic face. With the resin dolls, I know they will find wonderful doll mothers. These more modern dolls will give me a chance to play with different styles. I now will have the best of both worlds—timeless romanticism and new, modern, fun looks.” Does Günzel envision herself moving into designing togs for real toddlers and elementary-school students? “The fashion business requires a lot of power,” she states. “I think at the moment I want to give all of my power to the doll business. But never say no, because you never know. Do you?”
The mother of two sons, Günzel has been toasted for more than two decades as the premier purveyor of feminine finery and little-girl loveliness. The division between her private life and her professional forté amuses her. “I truly do love boys. After all, I have two boys at home. But when it comes to dolls, boys are not best sellers. No, I am joking,” she insists. “I think I might try to create some boy dolls in the future. Of course, I will!”
The notion of a dapper Dan or a funky Fred decked out in Günzel’s first-rate costuming is a great bit of gossip to feast upon. “That would be an idea worth experimenting with,” remarks Debbie Bibb, manager of The Doll House in Edmond, Okla. “I can see them already: detailed, proportioned, nicely turned out. It would be a treat and a bold move for her. Seymour Mann has always done well with their boy dolls. I think a Günzel version of a little boy would be exciting and it would show off her incredible talent.”
Until a “Günzel guy” comes knocking on our doors, we collectors will just have to content ourselves with her initial five resin dolls debuting in 2006. Three—“Fine,” “Henrike” and “Spätzchen”—will be launched worldwide and two—“Doreen” and “Mariella”—will be U.S. exclusives.
“I have had a long-lasting friendship with America. I am so honored that my work continues to be respected and collected there. When I learned that I had won three DOLLS Awards of Excellence at the 2005 Expo, I was so pleased. I am happy that Seymour Mann and Paradise Galleries also won with my designs, and that the collectors and people love my work and took the time to vote for me. My own company won one of the three awards as well. It is an honor.”
Günzel was unable to attend the ceremony because her elderly mother was quite ill and hospitalized. As she visited with her 98-year-old mom, she brought along a copy of one of her doll books, a compendium of her career from its earliest days to today. As they flipped through the pages, Günzel’s mother was delighted to see a photo of herself posed with her daughter’s first-ever doll. “We were astonished by how different my work was when I first began, as a hobbyist really, back in the 1970s. The gift to be creative cannot go away. You cannot retire from it. It will hopefully stay with me forever. Every year, I feel responsible to make my dolls better and better, so collectors will always be happy. When they see my newest line, the resin debut, I hope they will be happy, again and again.”