Growing up, Virginia Lee’s supportive and caring family encouraged her to discover her own path and to trek it bravely and confidently. Today, Lee lives in the small town of Edwardsville in southwest Illinois, just a few hours away from her family’s farm. That proximity underscores the connection and appreciation she carries in her heart.
“I treasure being able to return to the same home where I grew up. Art and music were a huge part of our family,” Lee said. “Now that I’m older, I find the land and early memories of the farm are a big influence on me. My parents’ support of us is unquestionable, and I’m so thankful every day of that fact.”
As a child, Lee said, she didn’t just watch her favorite cartoons, she used them as a springboard for her own creativity. “I watched the ‘Jem’ cartoons religiously, and their dolls were my favorites. They were nicely jointed and super cool with their multicolored hair and flashy fashions. I was always making clothing and dolls from anything I could get my hands on and played with them until I reached an age when it wasn’t ‘cool’ anymore.
“I don’t have any of my childhood dolls in my current collection, but I still enjoy good posing and retro-inspired brands,” Lee continued. “I still love cartoons and anime, so that is something I’m drawn to in dolls stylistically more than high-fashion dolls.”
When Lee sits down to unleash the cast of characters that frolic in her mind, she envisions what the doll’s personality or attitude might be. “I imagine the character I want to bring out before I begin — it is more of a feeling than a story. For instance, it might be the sweetness of a caring young babysitter or the scowl of a stubborn child. I use many photos and sketches for reference to begin the features, but often the end result can look very different. I also enjoy how unique each sculpt ends up looking with different skin tones and faceups.”
Briar, a Sweetheart-size (13-inch) BJD.
Lee’s dolls, sold under her company’s name, Forever Virginia, are goodwill ambassadors from her heart and soul. They represent her affection for childhood whimsy and a lingering desire to live in happy, peaceful times. “I think collectors are drawn to the feeling of nostalgia and warmth that my dolls evoke. Whether the face is smiling or pouty, it makes you say ‘aw’ and want to cherish it. I try to approach doll making from the perspective of a collector and make them easy to handle for dressing and good posers, which makes them enjoyable to play with,” the artist said.
Lee’s creations come in three distinct sizes. “I think it’s helpful to collectors to have names for the body types, especially when comparing sizes and fitting clothing,” she said. “So when I was choosing my categories, I knew I wanted something cute and fun. Charm (19 cm/7.5 in), Lolli (27 cm/10.5 in), and Sweetheart (33 cm/13 in) are all types of candy. What could be sweeter than that?”
In addition to her dollmaking skills, Lee draws on her career as a digital artist and web designer to keep her website appealing and easy for collectors to use. Her dolls demand a good home, and Lee stands behind their journey from her studio to their new residence.
“I’ve worked in all aspects of the doll craft since 2004 and started my own line in 2015. I really believe there is no end to what you can learn to do with dolls because they are like little people and need everything! So creatively, it is very fulfilling. But I also enjoy the technical side — learning how to better manage my business and promote my art,” Lee said. “The dolls can be purchased blank, nude with a faceup painted by me, or as a full set (fully dressed and painted by me). The clothes I make are as much a part of my art as the dolls themselves. They completely define my vision for the character of the doll and are a large part of my dollmaking enjoyment. Of course, I also enjoy seeing how collectors choose to dress the dolls themselves and show their own vision.”
One of the perks of being a doll artist is that Lee has a connection to her collectors. She is able to view how her dolls have brightened the lives of her customers, and she enjoys receiving e-mails, pictures, and heads-up notifications about her faceups and doll sets: “The nicest compliment is when a customer posts a photo or sends a message that speaks back to me the feeling that I have for the dolls. It tells me that the dolls spoke to their heart with my own feelings, if that makes sense. That is deeply satisfying, but also every comment, like, or sale feels like a compliment when it’s your own art you’re putting out there.”
Lee has embraced many technological breakthroughs that help her maintain her quirky, whimsical, retro brand. “I’ve created my own fabric for better doll scale and regularly use digital fabric cutting to ensure greater accuracy and consistency in my sewing. Understanding the printing and production process helps me make better photos for advertising. As a self-promoting artist, understanding the internet as a means of business and communication is so important, but there is always more to learn. I’ve also started learning a new skill in 3D sculpting. It’s something that I might not have tried if I hadn’t already worked with digital media in the past,” Lee said.
Her technical skills give her a solid foundation that helps her create her wholesome, nostalgic beauties. “I’m most inspired by things that give you a warm sense of childhood. I like a bit of kitschy pattern mixing and an old-world, hand-hewn feel. I’m also very inspired by the art of the craft and always aspire to develop and refine my skills. I get motivated following other artists in all media, everything from textiles to anime.
“I use all of my talents to make dolls that are rustic, simple, nostalgic, and cute. I have a career grounded in work that sustains my soul. My goal is to make people happy with my art and I feel honored if it can touch others, especially in these difficult pandemic times.”