Artistic creator of French dolls still teaching classes
For a long time, dolls in the image of the French Bebes (child dolls) have been coveted the world over.
Local artist Mary Metz has mastered her skill at recreating these beautiful dolls, which were the preferred doll of children everywhere during the late 1800s.
The Spencer Doll and Toy Museum is currently showcasing Metz’s dolls, which do have an eerily realistic and alive quality about them.
The stunning re-creations in fine hand-painted porcelain and luxurious costumes are certainly a sight to behold.
Metz first expressed her love for antiques reproductions through ceramics and painting. After being offered the chance to take a ceramic painting class, she eagerly signed up.
Little did she know, they would be painting ceramic dolls. After the class ended, Metz displayed her creations in her ceramic shop, where they garnered the attention of her employees and customers. People began lining up to have her teach them what she learned.
When asked how many dolls she made in her 35 years of experience, Metz laughs.
“I’ve made a lot of dolls,” she said.
Between three display cases at home, two in her workshop and one at the Spencer Doll and Toy Museum, there are too many to count.
Metz eventually sold the ceramic shop and began selling handmade dolls in the wholesale business and teaching classes.
After retiring, she started teaching classes three times a week on how to make copy antique dolls.
Metz’s classes specialize in making two kinds of antique reproduction French dolls — Bru and Jumeau.
Metz’s favorite style to make is the Bru.
“They’re so much fun to make,” she said.
Even if you are new to antique dolls, it won’t take you long before you can immediately identify Bru and Jumeau Bebes on sight. The distinctive features of the dolls include large, soulful eyes and very full cheeks.
Bru dolls were produced from 1866 to 1899, by Bru, Jne & Cie, until the company was absorbed into S.F.B.J. (the Societe Francaise de Fabrication de Bebes and Jouets). That company absorbed most of the major French makers of dolls when German bisque doll makers took over the market.
Bru dolls were made in much smaller quantities than their famous French cousins, the Jumeau dolls. This is one of the main reasons, besides their beauty and artistic quality, that the prices for the dolls remain so high. By making a reproduction, doll collectors can enjoy the beauty of the dolls without spending a small fortune.
Metz said she loves teaching these classes because she is able to spread the art of creating dolls. Each doll takes five to six weeks to complete, as they begin from casting the porcelain to painting the faces.
Metz said her favorite part about creating and teaching is how satisfying the results are.
When asked what her favorite piece in the featured artist exhibit at the Spencer Doll and Toy Museum, Metz pointed to the young African American boy and girl. Both are sporting blue ribbons that she won during a doll competition.
If you’re interested in creating one of these fabulous French Bebes for yourself, the next class will begin at the end of May.
Class times usually run from 10 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Classes begin at $48 and go up from there. This cost includes all materials except for the customizable hair and eyes.
If interested in taking the course, you can contact Mary Metz at 704-888-3474 or the Spencer Doll and Toy Museum at 704-762-9359.
Catherine Crawford and Fayeleesa Shropshire are marketing interns from North Rowan High School.