Being able to see the world in a quirky and comical way is a blessing. That was particularly true during these past few years when a global pandemic and its attendant fear circulated across countries and communities. During these isolating and unusual days, doll artist Judy D. Porter looked around, took stock of the situation, and knew that a special brand of protective dolls was called for. Enter her enchanting line of Little Guardians.
Based on Porter’s childhood interactions with her mother, the dolls are meant to serve as stalwart defenders of everyday flora and fauna. “My inspiration is from a wonderful childhood of believing in fairies that lived in the woods behind my house,” Porter said. “Little notes started appearing in my room. A tiny pair of pink doll shoes! What a great mom! She helped to make it all real for me.”
The belief that a doll can help ward off a bout with the blues and even everyday anxiety is not far-fetched. All doll lovers know that the arrival of a new doll can raise spirits and bring joy into one’s life. Porter’s new Little Guardians are supercharged caregivers: “When I was a child, I knew I had to be the Guardian of the Woods. Someone had to watch out for those tiny creatures. From that memory, my Little Guardian of Dolls and Doll Collectors was born. Each Little Guardian comes with one hand-sculpted doll. Cases representing her room and her doll collection are available. Right now, she’s exclusive to the Modern Doll Collectors Convention (MDCC).”
Since many people view their dolls as gatekeepers of their youthful, carefree days or reflections of their current children and grandchildren, Porter’s Guardians are ideal collectible companions. “The good news is that there are two more of these Little Guardian dolls,” Porter said. “There is the Little Guardian of Spring and the wintry Little Guardian of the Snowflakes. I think every sculpt of mine is inspired by the innocence of children knowing that they are the heroes of their own stories!”
Even though her completed work touches a slew of admirers, an artist’s life is often a solitary one. Porter works alone in her studio — she’s based in Missouri and Florida — but she has called upon Bonnie Larson of Wee Designs to “do the bulk of my sewing these past years.” Now with the Little Guardians, her inner circle has expanded even more. “I am so excited to have this new collaboration with Montanna ‘Tanna Beth’ Broyles and JacQs Broyles. This is a fabulous team of a face-up artist and a seamstress. I am so thrilled to be working with these lovely ladies!”
Broyles is the owner of Designed By JacQs. “My first name is pronounced ‘Jax.’ Long story short, my grandpa was Jack, and I got ‘JacQs.’ That is not a typo! There is an ‘s’ at the end,” Broyles said. “I am a self-taught seamstress and have been sewing for many years. I am very passionate about what I do. I pride myself on attention to detail and enjoy sewing for many BJDs. Commissions are always welcome!”
Tanna Beth, Porter’s other new colleague, is a face-up artist “for a variety of dollies. You can follow my work on Facebook or Instagram.”
Porter said she’s delighted to be able to work with the talents and skills of Beth and Broyles, and she forecasts future ventures. “The Little Guardian series will have a new addition in 2023. Again, it will come from my very imaginative childhood and my parents, who supported my art.”
Having a strong and encouraging support network has been crucial in Porter’s development as a doll artist. Initially, she earned her living as an events caricaturist. “I lived in Chicago after high school and attended the Art Academy. Doing serious portraits prepared me for way less serious event caricatures. Interestingly, there was way more serious money in it. People pay well to have you make fun of them!” Porter said.
“Transitioning to sculpting was a challenge. I had no background in the doll world. I had some great help from other artists, including Jack Johnston, Dianna Effner, and as most know, Pat Moulton. Pat taught me a lot about the doll world. She was my support and my mentor.”
Porter’s email address, Judytoons, harkens back to her work as a cartoon artist for many years. The ability to take reality and filter it into something joyful and humorous still underscores her work. Her dolls embody the freedom and fierceness of little kids who entertain themselves with their own dreams, ambitions, and make-believe adventures every day.
“My company motto says it all,” she said. “Little kids doing what little kids do. It’s the cute, sometimes crazy things kids do. My toddler series of 12-inch sandbox buddies has been so well received! I have collectors who have the entire series. They get that each one represents something special about childhood. A new one has been added — Lotus, a little girl from China.
“The best compliment of all is from a collector or collectors who say, ‘I love your dolls.’ It just doesn’t get any better than that.” It’s also encouraging that her family stands behind her passion. “My hubby tells everyone about my work. My daughter helps with the cyber fun. My sister and my mom are my cheering section.”
Since dollmaking has offered so many opportunities and accolades for Porter, she wants to return the favor in kind. “This coming year, I am hoping to reschedule the workshops I was planning to teach before COVID-19 hit. I love teaching! Plus, I prepared a step-by-step book for my students. I provide all the supplies and the workbook. It is a great doll party!
“The takeaway for me from my work as a doll artist is truly the joy I get from my collectors. They get that it’s all about the wonderful world of endless possibilities that childhood offers. I think that is the appeal of my dolls. I hope that in my work, collectors find the joy and innocence of childhood.”