By Stephanie Finnegan
The desire to have a doll to love and to hold is not confined to children alone. Many adult collectors yearn to own a special doll that speaks to them in a unique and personal way. Knowing such an intimate bond exists between collector and doll, Brenda Mize has stepped in to help the connection grow stronger, sweeter, and more self-directed.
Mize, the artist and designer behind Eyes of Texas Dolls, has blazed a new trail with commissioned dolls that celebrate milestones in people’s lives. Often working from photos of a collector’s special childhood memories, and sometimes even using fabric from a customer’s treasured party dress, Mize takes care to discuss each commission in depth.
“Sometimes I will receive photos for personalized dolls and sometimes not,” she said. “I find that collectors are more adept at choosing a face sculpt to resemble their family member than I am. It is very helpful to have a Gallery of Faces on the Eyes of Texas website to refer customers to.
“One customer friend, Janice Wassmuth, provided me with a doll dress that closely resembled the dress that she was wearing in the photo, and I deconstructed that dress and created a new one. She also provided me with the fabric that one of her dolls was wearing, and her miniature porcelain doll is wearing a dress made from this fabric. I work closely with customers to track down fabrics that they wish to have their dolls dressed in. It is a customer-oriented process, and I thoroughly enjoy working with each and every customer and their special custom order.”
Many collectors are commissioning these personalized dolls to surprise their loved ones with links to their long-ago days. “Tabetha Waite wanted a custom doll of her grandmother from when her grandma was a little girl. It was fun getting to know Tabetha and to work together on getting all of the details in place. Her grandma, Wanda Sue, was thrilled with the finished doll,” Mize said.
Even when a customer has bought an Eyes of Texas Doll in the past, it’s still a novelty to have a doll designed to resemble an actual friend or family member. Debbie Birkman, who had bought a doll created from the Dianna Effner Jessica mold from Mize, decided to commission a doll based on her daughter Stephanie’s face.
“Since there was no Stephanie mold, I asked Brenda to create a Stephanie doll from the molds that she had,” Birkman said. “Working from several emails and pictures of my daughter, Brenda created a Stephanie doll. She is absolutely beautiful. I did not have to wait long for the doll to arrive. I now have a granddaughter, Caelynn, whom I would like Eyes of Texas to make. I am waiting for her to get a little older (she is 2 now) before I have one made.”
These nostalgic designs give collectors something to look forward to. “These are troubling times,” Mize said. “Many customers have told me that just looking at their doll collections brings peace and happiness to their souls. I can certainly attest to this fact. Doll collecting is a wonderful and great escape. And doll collectors are using social media to share and bond with fellow collectors. I have made many special friends who share the same love for doll collecting that I do. I think that child commissions are becoming more and more popular as collectors want to immortalize members of their family and relish the escapism that doll collecting has to offer.”
Beyond the commissions, Mize is also designing a series of dolls inspired by historical fashions. “I have always loved Victorian-era fashions worn by dolls. I was so fortunate to take an online video course (Bru Costume) hosted by Connie Zink and conducted by the amazing seamstress Pam Willits. The course consisted of 19 videos with detailed instruction from Pam. To this day, I still am using the sewing tips and techniques that Pam shared with the class.
“At first I was a bit overwhelmed, but I was bound and determined to master the creation of these 1880 replica ensembles. I was quite proud of my finished products. I found that by creating multiples, instead of just one outfit, I was better at mastering techniques through repetition. The outfits fit my 14-inch dolls perfectly, even though they were intended for an antique reproduction Bru doll.”
Traveling through time has become second nature for Mize, and she has set her “epoch odometer” to the Swinging Sixties, too. She is thrilled to be coaxing a “groovy gal” into existence: “Currently I am working on a 1960s ‘hippie’ doll as requested by a customer friend. I also want to create Christmas doll tree toppers in time for the holidays. In addition, this will be the fourth year for my line of Halloween witches. I am very pleased at how popular they have become.
“I am also considering creating some of Dianna Effner’s larger baby sculpts. The recent auctions that Dianna’s family had have given me a glimpse at many adorable baby doll sculpts that I would not have known of otherwise. And I would like to continue to explore porcelain accessories (mini porcelain dolls) for Eyes of Texas Dolls.”
Since Mize relies upon Dianna Effner sculpts for her myriad creations, the dolls are always wholesome, youthful, innocent, and childlike. This salute to the carefree days of childhood meshes with Mize’s own worldview. “Hand-crafting dolls and their outfits has truly been a dream come true for me. I think about the phrase ‘Success doesn’t come from what you do occasionally, but what you do consistently.’ This definitely holds true with sewing techniques.
“I used to be leery of using a pattern that was labeled as intermediate level, but that has changed with time. Now I relish the challenge and actually have found myself changing some details to improve upon the finished product,” Mize said. “I have experienced several different professions in my life, and this has been the most rewarding and satisfying. At this point in time, the dolls are dressed in my doll fashions, but the ability for collectors to purchase just clothing is a definite possibility.
“I consistently strive to achieve a certain old-fashioned agelessness with each of my dolls, and it has been welcomed by fellow collectors. I believe that personal nostalgia truly warms one’s heart. The presence of one’s doll collection or special doll can appease feelings of loneliness, grieving, and gloomy thoughts and be uplifting at the same time as well. People collect dolls because a doll has the ability of recapturing the joys of a person’s childhood. Dolls can look so lifelike that they can soothe emotional needs as well.”