Photos courtesy of Marbled Halls
It’s fantastic to keep up to date with family and friends, and with the arrival of Facebook and its constantly expanding networking possibilities, even the occasional frenemy or long-forgotten colleague might tiptoe into your social media universe. Facebook lets us see our nearest and dearest, as well as faraway friends and way-way-far-back classmates, in an up-close and personal way.
We might get to see their faces from a high school yearbook, circa 1980s or 1990s, or we can receive notification that a cousin’s Throwback Thursday image has hit our timeline from a birthday party they held way back in 1973! Facebook is a vehicle for all of us to have to face our mortality on a daily basis. Whether you like it or not, you’re bound to bump up against a photo of your face from decades ago, and then old Father Time’s relentless handiwork becomes ever so clear.
That’s one reason why dolls are such engaging collectibles. No matter the years, decades, or centuries that roll by, the doll’s face remains unchanged. If she’s preserved and protected — avoiding chips, fractures, or careless pen marks — she will remain eternally young or whatever her age at “birth” might have been. That notion of keeping a child doll youthful and untouched was frequently at the fingertips of Marbled Halls artist Connie Lowe. When I had the chance to chat with her over the past three years, she emphasized her connection to the innocence of children and their vulnerable countenances.
“I find myself often working on dolls that have big-eyed, wide-eyed faces. I’ve had fun making these funny, little dolls. When I make a doll, I don’t question why I am doing it. I think I’ve always wanted to inspire people to have fun. I think people look back on their childhoods, and for most people, that is the happiest times of their lives. I am trying to create nostalgia for people, a nostalgia for their past, happy childhoods,” Lowe told me.
During that same interview, conducted in late 2015, Lowe mentioned something that has come to fruition this year: “Little by little, and more and more, I am also being drawn to more realistic sculpts. I have always had great success with the funny dolls — the ones that might have a face that only a mother could love, like Muddles — but I am being drawn more frequently to dolls that have a more ‘serious’ or ‘real’ side to them. I am anxious to explore this more and more.”
Certainly, Lowe’s Stella doll, which debuted in 2017, fits this bill. The doll was designed to honor the children who grew up and survived the Great Depression. The dolls that will join the debuting Stella are testaments to the resilient spirit and strength of character that allowed these children — many growing up in impoverished and reduced circumstances — to become solid citizens and morally upright adults. The dolls have a forlorn look to their visages, but also a determined set to their jaws and a true grit in their eyes. Like Lin-Manuel Miranda says about America in his “My Shot” lyrics from “Hamilton,” these Depression dolls are “young, scrappy, and hungry.”
They are also a far cry from some of the impish and quirky dolls that Lowe had initially cultivated. This is an achievement that she has been toiling toward. “I’ve been making BJD dolls since 2009. However, I’ve been designing dolls of one sort or another for well over 25 years. My longevity is really owed to my collectors. I have been blessed with an amazing group. They are the real story and the real basis for what I have been able to do. They support me, and we understand one another,” Lowe declared. “My success and my ability to go off in different directions has been dependent on the collectors. I want to share a big thank-you to them all!”
Another set of people whom Lowe acknowledged as being among the bedrock pillars of her business are her family members. Yep, like the inner circle of Facebook that consists of one’s nearest and dearest, Lowe’s doll business has relied heavily on her immediate family. She told me about her company that she said functions like a “mom-and-pop shop in many ways.” At the time of her interview, Lowe gave shout-outs to her mother, who helped sew her designs; her husband, who helped with shipping; her daughter Anya, who took over cooking duties when called upon; son Justin, who spearheaded her Web page; and Ian, who “sits up at night with me when he is around and watches TV with me while I am doing handwork on the couch. It is a family affair!”
Lowe’s daughter Galina, also known as Galya, has sculpted several doll heads and had demonstrated an affinity and an empathy for the world of dolls and its many inhabitants. “She has picked up on my true love of dolls,” Lowe stated. “I have a deep love of antiques and of children. That has helped me in my doll business. Also, my travels outside of the United States have always helped me. They have given me inspiration and have helped to shape many of my dolls and their costumes. Seeing me and watching me has influenced my daughter, and that development has made me very proud.”
An appreciation of history has always been at the core of Lowe’s characters, and she gives a nod to her costuming background: “I think my work has always had a level of emotion to it, and I have often relied on my roots as an antique-doll clothing designer. While I’ve made my own dolls, I’ve gone back into my own past to design costumes that reflect this.”
Devoted to the culture of Southern France, Lowe has mined that landscape and its palette for many of her original creations. “I love southern France and its wonderful muted colors and beautiful patterns and its amazing textures. When you are there, you are surrounded by that everywhere. An artist cannot help but be influenced by what she sees,” Lowe mused.
“I have a love for antiques and for taking that feeling of nostalgia for a place or a time and combining it with an antique fabric or a vintage accessory,” she continued. “I like to use antique fabrics, flowers, laces, and metal trims. To me, the details of a design are always critical. I like to invite my collectors to look for them in even the smallest and most unexpected places. For instance, I like to have a bit of whimsy and a bit of surprise — there could be a garter above the knee, a key on a waistband, or a bird in a cage beneath a pannier.”
One of Connie Lowe’s driving principles was “Life, live it and love it!” She became devoted to that philosophy after a very harmful, possibly life-threatening accident that she endured at the end of 2015. Suffering multiple fractures, bone breakage, and temporary nerve damage, she felt defeated and overwhelmed.
But the artist in her refused to let the accident erase her future plans and her doll dedication. “I made up my mind that because I survived such a bad fall, I had to follow through on my dreams and my commitments. I made a comeback from a tragic accident and I relied on my dolls to lead the way. That is just one more reason why they are so important to me.”