Nellie"s Needles

Monday, June 08, 2009

My First Spirit Doll

... was made reluctantly a number of years ago at Arrowmont.
It was an exercise to start the flow of creativity in a week long workshop, "Healing Art", conducted by Susan Shie and James Accord. At the end of the orientation assembly the night before, everyone in our class was instructed to bring a sock to class. I was a bit put off when we were told to spend the first day making a sock doll. There was no instruction other than to make the doll. It seemed a waste of time because each of us had already spent a lot of time and effort to prepare for creating a specific piece of art that dealt with healing.
Somewhere I have a group photo with my classmates and their dolls. One that has really stuck with me is a most gorgeous beaded mermaid doll made from a grungy tube sock.

I don't know why, but the first thing I did was to turn my sock inside out. The extra lengths of thread where the knitting changed colors intrigued me. As I stuffed and shaped her body, childhood memories began to surface. For some reason I could not explain, I just couldn't give her arms. She was endowed with all other female attributes, including underarm hair. She even got a cute little hat made from the top part of the sock.
I stayed late in the studio to finish her ... there was going to be no more time wasted on a sock doll when I had a BIG serious project to work out. Just before I fell asleep, the memory of making a sock doll when I was in a children's home hit me. I really, really wanted a doll. The only way I could have one was to secretly make it and her clothes from my socks. It's pretty certain that I did have some thread and a pair of scissors. She was probably stuffed with a pair of panties. Of course, I had to hide her and could only play when everyone else was asleep. The disappearance of my socks was a mystery to everyone else.

The second day of class opened with a discussion of our experience in making the dolls. Then we were told, what by then was obvious to each of us, that the act of creating a doll with no instructions or outside input was a way of opening channels of creativity on a deeper level.

The theme for my healing art quilt was my broken family, which is why my siblings and I were in the children's home. Making the sock doll opened a floodgate of memories for those years over half a century ago. That quilt was never finished, but the process of creating it brought a closure for a difficult and painful childhood. This spirit doll is a presence in Studio South. Can you spot her?


17 comments:

Deborah said...

Thank you for sharing this story with us. I found it very moving.

Heather said...

Oh Nellie, what a poignant story and thankyou for telling it. I think I caught sight of your doll on the top shelf above the cutting table. What clever people they were, who tutored the course you were on.

Allison Ann Aller said...

Yes, the top shelf in front of the color wheel!
It hurts to read of your tough childhood...but obviously you have triumphed in a life of love and beauty...
I would love to take a class with Susan Shie one day, too!

Kay said...

Thank you for sharing is such a cliche, but it has real meaning here. It's meaningful to see the doll watching over your studio too.

Joyce said...

That is a touching story. What an amazing class that must have been. Your studio is very inspiring.

Debra said...

Your post today reminds me of the saying: Life is what happens when you are busy making plans--you wanted to "get on" with the real big art but the mind needed to heal with the smaller art. And, apparently, the dollmaking has stayed with you too.

self taught artist said...

touching post and i really like this first spirit doll, it is primitive and raw.

Dolores said...

Amazing what happens when you don't expect it. Thank you for sharing a piece of yourself.

Kim Hambric said...

What a powerful experience that must of been to work on that doll. I wonder why no arms? Your broken family past? Thank you for sharing your story and your work.

McIrish Annie said...

Thank you for sharing that story, Nellie. I feel honored that you would share that with us. You are a truly talented and lovely lady.

Enjoy your summer at the lake. I am quite jealous! It looks like the perfect spot.

Nellie's Needles said...

I thank each of you for your appreciation of the story behind my first spirit doll.

Kim, I had meant to include in the story the reason for her being armless. I had not made arms on my secret doll. Those were a bit too complex for the limited time and materials in my hiding place.

The healing art quilt is tucked in a chest Tennessee. The next time I dig it out I'll try to remember to take photos and post about it. I really should finish it and donate it to a youth home. There are far too many children not living with their parents who experience the feelings and have the same questions I stitched into my quilt.

Libby Fife said...

You just never know about people, do you?

Beverly said...

Nellie, thank you for blessing my day with this story. I see children like you were every day in my work- yet rarely get a glimpse of the healing that can occur years later. Thank you for a slice of hope in a world that often feels hopeless.

Nellie's Needles said...

Libby and Beverly, our spirit for survival, both emotional and physical, is amazingly strong when tested ... even in children. I've been known to say, "If I had my druthers, my life would begin at age 25." But then, I wouldn't be who I am without the trials and challenges of those earlier years.

teodo said...

Nellie, your story touched me.
It's true, sometimes sad situations come back to our mind. They make us feel sad. But at the same time they allow us to keep trying not to let people living close to us not to feel what we did in the past.
Thanks.

I want to try too to make a dool with your tutorial I downloaded.
ciao ciao

paulahewitt said...

Nellie - thanks for sharing this story. it was very moving - and Im glad you could 'indulge' in dolls later in life. and im also pleased none of the little girls in your family missed out. xx

Hélène H said...

This is a truly beautiful and moving doll. She seems to have much spirit, and I think the place where she is now gives her a kind of magic glow.

I was sad and amazed to hear about your childhood sock dolls.

Then it is funny what you say about making dolls with no guidance. I just started such a doll, my first one of this kind, which is supposed to talk about PMS (but I can't show her yet). Your words encourage me to keep working on her. Thank you.

With love,

Hélène