I was recently corresponding with Lynn Cartwright for an article in an upcoming issue of DOLLS magazine. It focuses on her new book (the first in her long and storied career), and Cartwright sent a diverse selection of photos to bolster her quotes. Cartwright is exceptionally prolific, and her range of dolls doesn’t just orbit around one theme or philosophy. Rather, Lynn Cartwright sculpts dolls that represent all races, religions, cultural backgrounds, social circumstances, close-knit communities, and even imaginary landscapes and residents. (She has fashioned some really great-looking portrait dolls based on literary characters!)
One of the things I like best about Lynn Cartwright’s oeuvre of work is that despite its expansive nature—the woman does indeed tackle every continent and century, it seems—her dolls are all made with a respect for the subject matter and a grateful spirit that emanates from the artist. Cartwright’s one-of-a-kind originals are so special because she sees them as reflections of her own viewpoints and preferences, and she is worldly enough to appreciate how diverse and surprising the world can be.
Born in northern Minnesota and raised in White Bear Lake, Cartwright grew up playing with Terri Lee dolls, but also creating her own homemade paper dolls. In fact, it was this artistic streak, combined with dreaming up wardrobes and accessories, that led her into her successful, chosen profession. For 46 years, she worked as a fashion designer, and also excelled as a textile artist. As if that weren’t enough, Cartwright also designed and made jewelry in her spare time, and then, of course, flowed into the field of art doll sculpting.
An art major in college, Cartwright always gravitated to self-expression through creating and designing. She was a student of sculptor Anthony Bulone (honored as the sculptor of the first Barbie doll) and also attended porcelain-doll-making classes. Through trial and error, she labored to find an outward style that reflected her inner interests. “My inspiration for my doll art is from everyday life. It comes from travel and from observing people. Besides making dolls from inspirational items, I do collect exceptional items, too,” Cartwright told me. “The dolls that I collect educate me as to other artists’ construction techniques.”
The clear majority of her dolls are lifelike, and they seem poised to break out into conversation or are ready to share a hearty laugh and a smile with you. Her dolls do mirror the complexions and the complexity of the world around us. “So many of my dolls are happy, positive, and upbeat,” Lynn Cartwright shared. “A good friend of mine who is Japanese once told me that the Japanese believe that artists are the only ones who truly experience happiness on earth!” If this observation is true, then Cartwright ranks right up there as one of the earth’s most joyful individuals. “I’ve been making my dolls on and off for around 20 years, and I’ve created so many different collections with different themes,” Cartwright remarked.
One of the perks of being a doll artist who has global interests is that her work can actually benefit people, animals, and populations that reside on other sides of the planet. In 2013, Cartwright launched Dolls to the Rescue: Saving Endangered Wildlife. Her premier doll for that collection, Ivory, was made to raise awareness about the plight of endangered species: “Each of the gold metal African elephant charms on her ensemble sadly represented 1,000 elephants that were poached for their ivory, then left to die in 2013. The dolls in this series raised funds and awareness about the threats to endangered animals.”
A lover of nature and its inhabitants, exhibiting a fondness for cultures that revered the environment and a deep spirituality, Cartwright has also enjoyed great critical acclaim for her dolls that pay homage to the Native Americans. She has respectfully saluted different tribes with their individual dress, adornments, accessories, and attitudes. Cartwright turns to encyclopedias and reference books to research, to learn, and to evolve. She is also influenced by paintings and how other artists have enshrined the customs and lifestyles of the Original Americans. Her Little Apache doll was inspired by the painting (with the same name) done by notable Western artist Ray Swanson. Even before she became an award-winning doll artist and author, Cartwright felt an attraction to the legacy and the history of Native Americans.
She credits this curiosity, and her eagerness to learn and discover more, back to her childhood when she and her family vacationed at Glacier Park, Montana, and she was introduced to the Blackfoot tribe. This early exposure and education helped to pique her interest, and Cartwright continued on the path to studying more and unearthing more. Her drive and her perfectionism fueled her commitment to translating her passion into her artwork: “The Born in America collection has been an ongoing interest of mine. It is part of my legacy.” Lynn Cartwright’s collectors are happy that she has tackled this theme, and the myriad others that define her reputation and her career.