By Shai Hoffer
I used to own a little sewing and embroidery shop in my little town. As a mom of four boys, there weren’t many dolls in my home. I would often receive requests to make doll clothing, so I started hosting sewing classes for children to sew items for American Girl dolls.
In 2014, I was stricken with a life-threatening, debilitating disease that almost took my life. As I began the long road to recovery from late-stage Lyme disease and babesia (American malaria), I had to give up my full-time embroidery business. In 2017, I bought an American Girl doll to sew some clothing for and ended up repainting her. Apparently, my first attempt was pretty awful, and I received some very interesting criticism from other collectors. My favorite comment was that my doll’s eyebrows looked like I had drawn them on with a Sharpie!
Being open to feedback was one of the greatest catalysts for honing my skills and growing as an artist. I studied pictures of faces and images by other artists with a magnifying glass. At one point, I reached out to a world-renowned artist for her feedback. The support and feedback she offered helped me grow immensely as an artist. I keep a picture of that first doll that I repainted and compare it with my current work each year. I feel it’s important to gauge how much we’ve grown and remember where we’ve come from.
When I meet someone, I am initially drawn to their eyes. I look at everyone’s eyes. The colors, the shadowing, the patterns. I am so excited to be working on my own line of doll eyes. It is my hope to bring to life some of the unique eyes that I’ve seen and offer them to collectors and doll artists. I currently offer some basic glass and acrylic eyes on my website, but the new eyes will be my own hand-painted designs. Most of them will be manufactured on U.S. soil.
My health can still be an enormous challenge at times. Chronic pain, fatigue, and grieving the loss of the life I can no longer experience can take an emotional and mental toll. Painting my dolls, sewing the perfect outfit, and creating a character rejuvenates me. It brings peace to my heart, and healing to my soul.
Many collectors experience healing through collecting dolls. They are unlike any other collection. They have the ability to promote acceptance, comradery, joy, and hope within the heart of the collector. There are so many things my health prevents me from doing to help other people. But this I can do. I can paint a doll and aid a hurting heart. I can still make a difference to a hurting heart across the globe. Dolls are like a long-distance hug, every time you look into their eyes.
Little Miss Shai