Doll artists from around the world teach classes in Spencer

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, July 18, 2023

SPENCER — The National Institute of American Doll Artists held workshops in Spencer from Sunday to Tuesday in the old First Baptist Church building on Fifth Street. The workshops brought artists and enthusiasts from all over the world to Rowan County to learn more about the techniques and that are used to create the dolls and the different art forms that doll making can create.

Artists came from all across America as well as countries such as the Netherlands, Lithuania and Poland to a NIADA conference held in Charlotte. When the conference committee realized that the hotel they were in did not have a space for the organization to hold its school, they looked for places in the surrounding area where they could go. Beth Nance offered a place in Spencer that could hold the group.

“I found out that the group was going to be in Charlotte and I contacted them because of my connection with the North Carolina Museum of Dolls, Toys and Miniatures, which is over on Fourth Street, and I had met some of the ladies over the years through different doll events,” said Nance, co-owner of the museum.

One of the artists who came from across the Atlantic Ocean to attend the conference and teach at the school was Marlaine Verhelst from the Netherlands. Verhelst taught attendees about sculpting with air-dry clay. Other subjects that artists taught included sculpting cloth into faces and body parts, crafting jewelry and creating paper mâché masks.

The artists that have membership in the NIADA have to go through a rigorous process to be approved as internationally-recognized doll artists. They have to present their art in photographs to the organization. Then if the photographs are approved, the artists have to put their dolls in front of a committee of members who will decide if the artist can be recognized as such by the organization.

“One of the things that the standards committee and the artist membership is looking for is a unique voice in what you produce. An identity of design, a recognizable style that is yours,” said Ann Hord-Heatherley, an artist in the organization.

Before departing Charlotte, the group took some time to create an art installation from their dolls as a donation to the Levine Children’s Hospital.

“We installed those dolls yesterday morning at the hospital, so they’re actually in the Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte. When you walk in the front door the first thing you see are those dolls,” said Gracie Coleman, the chairperson of the conference committee for NIADA.

For 60 years, the NIADA has held their conferences of doll artists in the United States. They have been in places such as Seattle, Washington D.C. and Chicago, but never outside of America. In two years that will change when the organization holds their first international conference in Warsaw, Poland.

“It’s almost more international than American now, so we will have to change the name,” said Verhelst.