Photos courtesy of Zwergnase
When there is a crisp, fall feel to the air, I instantly know that school is right around the corner. Never mind the fact that I am inundated with classroom to-do lists (a certain number of Number 2 pencils, postings about Post-its, memos about memo pads), I can divine just from the shift in the breeze that my kids are heading back to school.
This year, the quirky pickup line from Tom Hanks to Meg Ryan in “You Got Mail” rumbles through my head. As her anonymous Internet pen pal, Joe Fox types to Kathleen Kelly: “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”
Such a sweet sentiment — and so immediately relatable to parents, grandparents, recent graduates, and current students alike. We all experience a sudden rush of ambition, high hopes, pledges for a better performance in the ensuing months, and a tiny frisson of anxiety when September rolls around. It’s like New Year’s resolutions repurposed for the waning months of the year. We all make these latter-year vows, but do we keep them?
The current lineup of dolls from Zwergnase, designed by Nicole Marschollek-Menzner, embody this autumnal optimism. The German doll artist and entrepreneur had her 2017 creations posed against volumes of textbooks. The mountain of books stands as educational pinnacles to climb and academic and personal goals to achieve. Her dolls, with their confident and realistic expressions, are poised to do well, while looking like everyday, actual children. These are dolls that represent young girls who have the future waiting at their eccentrically clad feet!
When I had the opportunity to chat with Nicole — sort of like Tom and Meg in the aforementioned Nora and Delia Ephron screenplay — we did it via the computer. We didn’t get a chance to speak face-to-face, but rather typing finger-to-finger.
Nicole was fated to become a doll artist; there are no two ways about it. Born in Rauenstein, Germany, she grew up intrigued by all of the arts and crafts item that her region was noted for. Her corridor of Germany is celebrated for its porcelain, glass, and toys. Forget about the North Pole and its legendary Santa’s workshop, Nicole actually enrolled in a school to learn and then improve the skills she had been teaching herself. Her formal education was refined at the College of Toy Design and Mechanical Engineering in Sonneberg, Germany. To supplement her classroom lessons and lectures, she worked for a doll manufacturer in Upper Franconia. “This gave me the chance to think about and to pursue my own creations,” she shared.
In 1994, nearly 25 years ago, she and her husband, Bernd, took the plunge and flung open the doors to their own factory. They launched Zwergnase, and her dolls took the collectibles world by storm. Her characters were just that — characters! These were not mere dolls, but rather testaments to the spirit, the personalities, and the attitudes of actual little kids, young girls, and tweens. “Children have so many different expressions, and I have always loved to be able to capture them. I have always attempted to replicate this whole range of expressions with my dolls,” she wrote. “Where I lived and worked, so many new things once began. So, why wouldn’t I try to begin something new of my own?”
One way that Nicole discovers inspiration is through the handling and touching of fabrics. The textural feel of the textiles helps her decide what kind of costuming her perky kids will be clad in. She studies the fabric patterns, designs, and appearances and then fashions bespoke outfits for her limited-edition dolls. “Since a young age, I knew I would be an artist. I was inspired by the surroundings where I grew up, and I knew this was something I would study,” she revealed. “There is not a time when I didn’t want to create something. I always wanted to do something that involved creative expression. That is what my doll career is about.”
The dolls that have populated Nicole’s imagination and then have sprung forth as her well-heeled, well-dressed “brain children” are fan favorites. It’s difficult to find someone who hasn’t fallen head over heels in love with her distinctive faces and wardrobes.
Truly, the Zwergnase dolls have that certain allure — that certain cute factor — that is star quality when placed in front of a movie camera. It’s not too far-fetched to suggest that if Meg Ryan’s 1990s film roles were ever translated into a doll website, it would bear a striking resemblance to a Zwergnase catalog.
Yes, indeed, the arrival of September, the ringing of school bells, and the spotting of sunshine-yellow school buses do raise everyone’s hopes, dreams, and determination. If only, like Nicole Marschollek-Menzner, we could kindle that first-day-of-school spark all year long!