Fairies, Fantasy and Froud
By Scott Wood (Doll Reader)
"People need to believe in more than what they see in everyday life. Somewhere inside, we all know that there is more out there than we experience normally," Wendy Froud explains. "A belief in the other world can help explain why things happen to us. It can give us hope. I feel that we all hope we never get to be too old to fly to Never-Never Land or go through a wardrobe into Narnia. We want to think that there is something looking back at us when we look at the stars. We want to think that just around the bend in the forest, we'll find fairies dancing in a ring. I hope that my work affirms those beliefs," she continues. "I want people to think of my work as a key to that other world."
Froud dolls -her "keys"- are renowned among collectors throughout the world as some of the finest fantasy creations. Her dolls also appear in the Edith Lambert Gallery for the Santa Fe Doll Art Show and, recently, at that show, in Tom Boland's booth.
At the moment, Wendy and her husband, Brian Froud, one of the top fantasy artists and illustrators in the world, are working together preparing a two-person show scheduled for December at the Warrington Museum in England. "I know it's a long way away, but we have a huge gallery to fill up. It isn't a selling show so I will have lots for the Toy Fair next year. I want to make a large group of dolls called The Trooping of the Fairies. It should be fun. I can put just about anything I want in it," she remarks. "I also hope to work on a children's book this year [A Midsummer Night's Faery Tale], using my work in photographs."
Froud, a resident of Devon, England, was born in Detroit, Michigan. Art ran -fairly spirited - in the family. Her father was a sculptor and director of The Center for Creative Studies Art School (C.C.S) in Detroit and her mother was a painter and collage artist and taught at C.C.S.
"I suppose I was artistic as a child," Wendy recalls. "Our house was so full of art and artists that it never occurred to me not to be constantly making things. I just assumed that all kids liked to work with their hands as much as I did. I was an only child so I did have a lot of time to be creative by myself and with my parents."
Froud was graduated from C.C.S. with a bachelor's degree in Fine Arts, majoring in ceramics and fabric design. Her interest in imaginative tales and characters was likewise fanned during her childhood.
"My mother used to read to me every night when I was little. We got through most of the major fantasy books of that time. The Narnia books by C.S. Lewis were my favorites and, later, Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings," she recalls. "I started making dolls to fill in the gaps of the dolls I had. Obviously we couldn't buy centaurs and fauns and elves and fairies, so I made them to play with the normal dolls I had. I must have been about six years old wehn I started making fantasy dolls."
Froud makes her dolls out of Fimo. She uses an armature base on which to build the doll, thereby making her dolls poseable. Her dolls are one-of-a-kind. When she has the time -when a respite from shows, the demands of galleries and commissions arises- she says she would like to look into issuing limited editions.
As with most doll makers, the head (and face) comes first. "When I 'm happy with that, I make the rest of the body in armature form, sculpting the hands and feet or anything else that shows as flesh as I go along," she explains. "If I am working from one of Brian's designs, I use one of his sketches to work from. If it's not from one of his designs, then I'll just start sculpting, I never sketch things out first. Sometimes I use photographs of people that I've found or that Brian or I have taken. Really, any source that inspires is used." Sometimes the dolls seem to flow out of her hands, as if "they can't wait to be out in the world."
"I'm so involved in the process that sometimes at the end of a day, I can look at the piece on my desk and really wonder how it got there," says Froud. "At other times, I really have to struggle with a piece to turn it into what I had in mind. Sometimes, I give up and leave it half finished to work on something else. Then in a few days, when I come back to it, I can see what it wants to be... which sometimes is not at all what I had in mind. When I just let that happen, things seem to go more smoothly."
Froud says she generally works in two different ways: interpreting and transforming Brian's ideas and art into three dimensions, and creating what she calls her own fantasies. "I love to work with Brian, and seeing his ideas and illustrations in three dimensions is always an exciting thing for both of us," she states. "I'm sure that comes from working on the films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth together." Both films, inspired by the art of Brian, were produced by Jim Henson.
What about her own fantasies? "I have a great interest in classical mythology and I need to make a sphinx or satyr every once in awhile to satisfy those interests," she confides. "The work I show in the C.F.M. Gallery in New York is my more 'grown-up' work. For that gallery, I can let my darker or more serious side come out. Brian loves to see me go in these directions and always encourages whatever I do."
The people who attend the shows and ease into the galleries, conferring in hushed tones, typically react to Froud's work as if they, for the briefest moment, are able to escape the rigid confines of what they call reality. For just a moment, the trolls, the fairies, and the satyr are barely a breath away from being alive. The key turns the lock and the person stands in the open doorway. The doll then is successful.
"That's the response I appreciate most in collectors," Wendy states. "When they look at the piece as something with a life of its own. People say things like ' I bet these really do come to life or at night' or when they react to a piece as though it was a friend. It's wonderful when people respond from the heart and when something touches them enough to do that."