Parksville dollmaker Lois Goodnough holds her 1920s flapper 'Phryne' while another of her creations

Whimsical dolls come out of the closet

Parksville doll artist shows off work for first time in MAC exhibit through Dec. 19

Parksville’s Lois Goodnough can’t be accused of having skeletons in her closet. The family of dolls living there don’t leave enough room.

Inspired by handmade dolls she saw in Dubrovnik, Croatia on a European trip two years ago, Goodnough began creating her own dolls, combining thrift-store castoffs, found materials and paint. This month, part of her expanding collection made its public debut in the McMillan Arts Centre’s Winter Art exhibit.

“The truth is, for the longest time I didn’t think I could part with them,” said Goodnough, 65. “They were my little family, living in the closet.”

The cloth dolls have been outed now, along with her skill in stitching, painting and assembling odd bits of material into one-of-a-kind creations brimming with personality. These are not perfect porcelain constructions with pristine locks of hair and spotless dresses.

“This is not the sort of doll you give to a child to play with,” said Rhonda Roy of the MAC. “It’s the kind of doll you put in a place of honour and look at.”

Goodnough first spied dolls of a similar style in a museum gift shop in Dubrovnik, but did not purchase any because she did not believe she could get them home without damaging them. Once she returned, however, she logged onto the internet to see what she could learn about their creation and, “came across a whole world of doll artists.”

Guided by a series of books and DVDs from a doll artist in San Diego, Goodnough learned the basic technique for making the cloth dolls, then turned her creativity loose.

The dolls, all portraying females thus far, boast distinct individual characteristics, with a Mongolian bride with intricate dress and headpiece here, a young punk girl with piercings and tattoos there, a halo-clad angel in white on this shelf, an elegant 1920s-era flapper, waving a cigarette in a long holder, reclining on a lounge chair.

Some of them have been given to friends or family members, like the wild, free-range “hippy” drummer that was given to her sister, a member of a drum circle in Saskatchewan.

“They sort of end up taking on a life of their own,” said Goodnough, who names each of her creations. “They all have a little story behind them, at least what I envision their story to be.”

Guests stroll past “Louisa’s Ladies,” handmade dolls submitted by Lois Goodnough, during a reception held last Saturday  for the December exhibit at the McMillan Arts Centre. The exhibit continues through Dec. 19. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS

Her friend, Debra Kuzbik, can’t wait for the book to come out. The two met shortly after Goodnough arrived here from the Okanagan little more than a year ago. When she attended a dinner at her new friend’s home, Kuzbik, a member of the MAC gallery committee, asked to see the dolls she had heard about.

“When she showed me, I was amazed how beautiful they were,” said Kuzbik. “Her attention to detail absolutely amazes me; they’re so whimsical and unique.”

Kuzbik immediately began lobbying Goodnough to display some of the dolls in the gallery.

“I worked on her a little bit, cajoled, did some arm-twisting,” Kuzbik said. “I think she finally agreed just to shut me up.”

Goodnough said some of her dolls are inspired by a look she has in mind ahead of time, but others are inspired by the fabric she finds while scouring thrift shops and second-hand stores. Almost no material is off-limits. For the chaise lounge under her flapper, she used a plastic box that previously held wet wipes. Before her move here, she gathered freshly sheared alpaca fleece from a farm, cleaned it, dyed it with Kool-aid, and uses it for the dolls’ hair.

The faces are stitched and painted, often with lipstick and makeup, and many have intricately-stitched fingers and toes with painted nails and rings. The dresses and other outfits are often adorned with buttons, beads, jewelry and other accessories.

“If you look at them, they’ve all been blinged out,” Goodnough said with a laugh. “Some of them have navel jewelry.”

She is looking at expanding her style, experimenting with paper clay to enhance the facial features, and in the future may try sculpting in paper clay or polymer clay. Kuzbik has urged her to create some gentlemen to go with her ladies, and Goodnough may comply.

In any case, while she enjoys retirement too much to turn doll-making into a full-time job, there will be no more hiding her creations away in a closet.

“Now that they’re out there, I think I’m OK,” she said. “I’ll still give some away, and if some get sold, they get sold. I think it’s always going to be for fun to me, and whatever happens, happens.”

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