One of the most striking features of Linda Zalme’s one-of-a-kind (OOAK) fairy dolls are their detailed, realistic-looking wings, all patterned after real butterfly and moth species. Both her love of art and drawing on nature for inspiration date back to her childhood, the artist said.
“I grew up in a small town in a rural area and spent a lot of time outdoors. My dad was an agricultural extension agent. He would point out different things of interest for me to observe,” Zalme recalled. “I found moth and butterfly wings to be very beautiful — the structure of the wings, the patterns, and the color of the wings are truly amazing. There’s no better teacher than Mother Nature.”
Her mother taught her to sew when she was a child, and her interest in art continued as she grew. “It seems that making a doll every now and then was something that I have always done. The first dolls I remember making were constructed of socks, fabric, and even dried apples. I also studied drawing and painting in college and then later at the Art Student’s League in New York City.
“Later, being married and a mom of three young children didn’t allow for large blocks of undisturbed creative time. Dollmaking became an outlet for me because I could compartmentalize the work. I took a porcelain dollmaking class in the early ’90s and soon found myself learning to sculpt. I even made porcelain molds on my kitchen table. Porcelain clay really hurt my skin, so I tried polymer clay and found my medium of choice.”
Zalme began exhibiting at shows in the early 2000s and soon found an audience for her fairies and other creations. While she had to take a lengthy break from dollmaking at one point, since her return, she’s won Dolls Awards of Excellence for her Princess & Frog in 2018 and her fairy doll Traveler in 2020. “I have come to love period costuming, so classic fairy-tale inspiration can be fun for me,” she said. “After returning to dollmaking after an eight-year hiatus, I want to focus on creating beautiful and unique pieces. I want the collector of my work to smile whenever one of my pieces catches their eye.”
Making the wings for her fairies is one of the most time-consuming and labor-intensive stages of her work. She stretches fabric over a frame of soldered wire, then primes and hand paints each wing with acrylics. “I reference the actual colors and patterns from specimens of the actual insects I am mimicking. This helps to make them as realistic as possible,” Zalme said. “I wanted the wings to be strong, somewhat flexible, delicate-looking, and beautiful. I think that I have succeeded.
“I’m currently working on the final painting steps of five sets of blue morpho wings. They are highly detailed and will take some time to complete to my satisfaction. I want the wings to look as consistent as possible. Collectors will sometimes have multiple pieces, and I would like them to match. I have found some wonderful textiles and have some ideas brewing for several Blue Morpho fairies before moving on to the painting of five sets of Monarch wings. That should keep me busy for a while!”