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ABOVE: Two views of Bloodlines, Five Generations, needle felted, soft sculpture and mixed media, depicting five generations of the maternal bloodline in my father's family
Anna im Eichelmütze, Kinder des Waldes: Ancestors
In my last newsletter, I started to write about a new ancestor doll. This is part of a series of dolls that started with Bloodlines-Five Generations, (see above image) which was about my father’s maternal line. That doll emerged after I had interviewed my father over the period of about nine months and then gathered his stories together into a small book, Looking Backward: Interviews with JHC, to be shared with my family. This new doll, Anna im Eichelmütze, Kinder des Waldes: Ancestors is about my mother’s maternal line. The German translates as Anna in an Acorn Hat and Children of the Forest.
I am currently interviewing my mother about her stories of growing up in wartime Germany. I plan to put her stories together into a book as well. It’s difficult at times to write my mother’s stories because of the hardships she and her family endured and also because of the horrible history of the Nazis in Germany. Even though I wasn’t alive then, I find that I have feelings of guilt about what was perpetrated by the Nazi party against the Jewish people. My mother was only five years old and wasn’t aware of what was happening. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about it, mostly memoirs of others who lived through that time. I just finished A Long Silence: Memories of a German Refugee Child, 1941-58 about a German woman, Sabine de Werth Neu, who suffered a difficult childhood of poverty and abuse during WWII in Germany. Unlike my mother, she and her family lived in an area of Germany occupied by Russia. After the war and she and her sisters were all brutally raped by Russian soldiers. My mother was lucky to have had a very different experience to be in an American occupied part of Germany. While there were some strange incidents, such as American soldiers pointing their cannon at my mother and her brother when they came back to their house to pick up pea flour, for the most part their interactions with the American soldiers were not as scary.
ABOVE: Some details of the Anna im Eichelmuetze doll in process, tiny figures of the two different family groups, working on the handkerchief which will go in a side pocket and a close up of the handkerchief which tells a story about my mother and her brother, Wolf
In the doll, Anna Im Eichelmütze, (see photos above,) I am trying to process my reactions to the stories my mother is telling me. The doll is also a tribute to the generations of strong women in my mother’s and my family line. I have less information about my mother’s family line than I had about my father when I was researching his story. In my mother’s family I only know of my mother’s mother, my grandmother, Annemarie Nestele, and my great grandmother, Anna Hochstätter Balz. My mother tells me about another generation, my great great grandmother, the mother of Anna Hochstätter, but my mother doesn’t remember her name. In the Anna im Eichelmütze doll, this unnamed grandmother, my great great grandmother is the one whose felted head is on top of this doll.
ABOVE: more details, my mother and sister with blueberry hats, detail of acorns on one of the "books" and front covers of the two "books"
Themes in Anna Im Eichelmütze
I am trying to address many themes at once in this doll, including the hardships my mother and her family experienced during wartime Germany, contrasted with the resourceful ways that my mother and my grandmothers dealt with these hardships.
That resourcefulness includes the ways my mother distracted herself during painful experiences such as hunger and the lack of other available resources. My mother and her siblings made up stories, based on the fairy tales that my grandmother told them. Having very limited toys of their own, they created toys out of what they could find. In my mother’s recollection, there were many times where she didn’t feel a sense of hardship or loss, instead feeling gratitude for what she was given. The acorn hat on Anna (my grandmother as a child)’s head alludes to some of the toys my mother and her siblings created.
I used an image of the house that my mother grew up in and that was later taken away from her family by the occupying American troops as a theme in this doll. This house, which was once a Benedictine monastery from the 14th century, was a school for "wayward boys" with my grandfather as director. At times the house shows up alone as on the chest of the doll. At other times, the house is overlaid with images of wartime Germany, as on the doll’s sleeves.
I also represented three generations of my mother’s family in two separate family groups. The matriarch, the unnamed great great grandmother whose felted head tops the doll, holds in her belly two “books” or fairy tales, with images of my grandmother as a child on the front of the top book (Anna im Eichelmütze) and images of my mother and one of her sisters on the front of the bottom “book” (Kinder des Waldes.) Inside each of the books there is a hidden space. I made tiny dolls to represent the two family groups and put them inside this space. On the top is my grandmother as a teen with her family, and on the bottom, is my mother as a young girl with her family. My mother’s father disappeared in the war but my mother’s family didn’t hear of his death until the 1970’s. So in her family group, I showed my mother with her mother and siblings but without her father. Behind them on the back “wall,” there is a smaller family group with my grandfather included.
ABOVE: Felting the great great grandmother's face and torso
More about my mother’s story
In the photo of my mother and siblings with my grandfather, everyone looks happy. In the little dolls made from a later photo of the family group without my grandfather, everyone is wearing ragged clothes and there is a look of pain on all their faces.
In this doll, I want to show the contradictions of my mother’s story. The pain and the joy both. She talks of having not enough food, of having lost their home, having no money. And yet they did the best with what they had. They were inventive and creative. There was still music in their lives, stories and making things. When I asked my mom about toys she said they had very little. She and her siblings, when they didn’t have to do chores or work, would go into the woods and find acorns and twigs and make their own tiny dolls. They would use walnut shells for tiny beds for their dolls.
ABOVE: details showing images of my mother's house, alternating with images of wartime Germany, on sleeves, chest and back
More about “and then we had color”…
My mother and her siblings only had plain pencils to draw with. But then someone, she didn’t remember who, gave her two color pencils, yellow and red. And her brother, Wolf got blue and green. They were able to trade colors so as to have more. My mother talks about how excited they were to have colors to draw with and what a difference this made to them. To depict this story, I stitched a handkerchief of my mother and Uncle Wolf, with the stitched words of my mother’s story of getting the colored pencils. This handkerchief is in a side pocket of the doll.
The doll is mostly beige and black, the sepia colors of old photos. But in the few details in those colors that my mother and her brother were so excited about, yellow and red, blue and green, reflect their tiny moments of joy. My mother and her siblings were also sustained by the stories that her mother read to her, Grimms Fairy tales and other stories. One of my favorites and my mother’s favorite as well was a story of children who lived in the forest, something like “Hanschen im Wald,” ( I don't remember the exact title) where the children magically shrink down to the size of the tiny animals of the forest. We both loved the wonderful drawings of the children wearing hats that looked like blueberries or strawberries, acorns or mushrooms. So I added some of these fanciful hats to the photos of my mother and her siblings on this doll.
My mother told of many other hardships that I didn't depict directly in this doll. Some of these hardships were, having to glean bits of wheat from the fields after the farmers had already been through them, so that her mother could bring them to the baker to grind for wheat. Or collecting tiny beechnuts-a day-long process, so they could get a quart of beechnut oil to cook with.
ABOVE: Front image of "Kinder Des Waldes" book, meaning Children of the Forest
Process of making the doll
This doll came out of a process of experimentation (see images below.) I knew that it was going to be related to the ancestor doll that I made about my father’s family which had an internal space at the bottom containing a felted heart and which could be opened and closed. I had the idea of making this doll using cigar boxes as the internal spaces but didn’t know more than that. I tend to work intuitively and figure things out as I go along. There were various challenges along the way, such as how to attach the “books” so that they could open and close, how to enclose the cigar boxes, how to make the tiny dolls that fit into each box and how to make these tiny dolls stand on their own. I am thinking of making a video that shows each stage of this process but for now here are a few photos showing some of the steps along the way of creating this doll.
I am interested in challenging you as a viewer to maybe make an ancestor doll of your own. Stay tuned as I figure out how to set this up here. I will also be teaching a class on ancestor dolls in the form of flip dolls at Halcyon Center in Georgetown, next April. Dates are tentative (see below) but stay tuned here for updates.
What is next?
Now I am thinking that there need to be more dolls in this series, so far I have two and one wall hanging. I am playing around with the idea of a nesting doll as ancestor doll. Stay tuned.
ABOVE: some of the technical challenges involved in making this doll. Figuring out how to attach a magnetic snap to make the doors open and close, tiny blueberry felted leaves, stands for the mini family dolls
December 2, 1-5 pm Jackson Art Center Open Studios-
Somewhat last minute, since the building is undergoing some renovations and we weren't sure if we were going to be able to host open studio this year. This year, we will still feature holiday themed food and decorations. This is a rare chance to see what I am up to in my studio and also to buy some smaller dolls that I am offering for the holiday season. Here are some of the dolls that will be on offer at the Open Studios and then at the Adams Morgan Holiday Market, if there are any left. I do plan to make more.
December 8 10-5 pm Adams Morgan Day Holiday Market-
Again sharing booth with fellow JAC artist Amelia Shachoy. I just found out that she is leaving the JAC this month. This is another chance to see what I am working on and to buy some small dolls for the holiday. Or to splurge on a larger doll… I will probably have Anna Im Eichelmuetze at this event, but Bloodlines will be in another exhibition (see below.)
December 1- 22, 2018 Opening Reception Friday December 7 6-9 PM Frida Kahlo themed exhibit at Artists and Makers
On display will be my Bloodlines-Five Generations doll ( see image at the top of this newsletter) about my father’s maternal line. There will be a holiday show at Artists and Makers on the day of the closing reception, December 22nd, but I won’t have dolls in this show.
Spring 2019 Workshops
Save these dates-tentative-still to be confirmed
There will be three workshops in the spring at Halcyon House. Halcyon House is a new center, just moved into a space in Georgetown near me. They offer artist incubator programs, to support emerging artists, arts labs and dialogues on various topics of current interest. They have recently started to offer arts workshops as well and I am honored to be a part of this program.
Here is the tentative plan of my workshops-again still to be confirmed. Stay tuned for updates.
Saturday, Feb 9 10-3 PM, Needle felted guardian doll workshop
Saturday Mar 16 10-2 PM Sacred Feminine Wrap doll workshop
Saturday and Sunday, April 27 and 28 10-3 PM, Ancestors and Grandmothers flip doll workshop.
Please note: I am currently working on prototypes for this workshop. I will get images soon that are closer to what we will be making.
ABOVE: Scenes of family and friends-me with Rachel seeing her off to the plane to McGill University (can't wait to see her at Thanksgiving!), me at the rained on Adams Morgan Day in September, with Jill Newman at the Textile Museum demo in September, with Julie Dziekiewitz at her wonderful solo show at the Art League last month, Peter's birthday with Rachel on FaceTime, Jonah on a NYC field trip
I've been making dolls for about ten years now. I believe that dolls serve as representations and reminders of the best part of ourselves. I am excited to share with you here my learnings about new methods and techniques for doll making and healing. So glad you are here!