14 February 2012
We take a look at the beautifully hand-sculpted and exquisitely dressed 1/12th scale dolls from Belgian artisan, Helena Reijnen. ...
Doll Making History
The history of the low Countries is a rich cornucopia of Germanic and French influences. In a region surrounded by water, much of it below sea level, its residents have battled the elements for centuries, producing a nation of rugged explorers and discoverers, and proudly boasting some of Europe's pre-eminent artists.
In the so-called Dutch Golden Age, colonies and trading posts were established all over the globe, with wealthy trade routes established, the Dutch imported may of the things its citizens desired, relying on the innovation of others to fill its shops and markets. Its toys and dolls came predominantly from Germany, as there was little time for doll making in a country that struggled to survive environmentally, economically, and politically. It wasn't until the second half of the 20th Century that Dutch and Belgian doll makers slowly began to emerge.
One of the most well-known Dutch doll makers Niesje Wolters Van Bemmel gave up portrait painting in 1973 to start making dolls, and went on to publish Poppen magazine. She has written hundreds of books about dolls and for the past 26 years has organised doll and bear fairs throughout the Netherlands.
Growing up in Antwerp, Helena was a quiet child who loved reading and learning, paying little heed to dolls. Both her parents were artistic, but neither encouraged that creativity in their daughter! They guided her towards secretarial work which they felt was more appropriate for young ladies. It wasn't until later that she took some evening classes to allow her to explore her love of art and sculpture.
The Empress Eugine wife of Napoleon III - The Princess d'Essling
The fun is in the making
Helena started sculpting larger dolls and what started as a hobby soon grew into a career. It wasn't long before her dolls attracted a following. A decade later, Helena, who loves a challenge, was ready to tackle something different and it came in the form of 1/12th scale dolls inspired by the purchase of a dolls house.
"During a visit to America, I bought a dolls house kit that my husband and I assembled and decorated. It came with a set of dolls I didn't like, so I bought some doll bodies from several suppliers, but was not really happy with the quality. I bought my own kiln and some commercial moulds and sculpted my own"
"Sculpting miniature porcelain dolls requires an entirely different technique. With larger dolls you can use commercially available tools, like spatulas. To make miniature dolls you often have to create your own tolls and each one is a journey of discovery. For me the fun is in the making"
The Duchess de Bassano - The Baronne de Pierres
Popular period dolls
Helena realised that Victorian dolls were most popular, but in order to attract more interest she ventured into dolls of other periods as well. Egyptian, Regency, Fantasy and even Eskimo. When she realised that miniaturists like creating historically accurate vignettes, she made sets of dolls to populate them. Recently she created a set featuring Eugine, wife of Napoleon III and last Empress of France, and her 8 ladies in waiting. 5 of which are pictured above. Helena has captured the allure of the period in beautiful detail. Collectors can either buy the set and create their own grand court, or buy the dolls individually.
The Dark Maiden - Eskimo Woman
Research & Inpiration
Inspiration comes from TV dramas, films, paintings and books on fashion and historical costumes. Her collection of books would rival a library! Helena searches the internet, the library and museums in search of inspiration and to ensure historical accuracy. After this she is off in search of fabrics - rich colours in silk, cotton and viscose. Trips outside the country afford her the opportunity to shop for fabrics, and Paris and New York are some of her favourite sources.
Ellen the Char Maid - Traditional Low Countries Costume Doll
Doll Making Workshops
Alone in her studio, Helena works seven days a week, soft paino music or a romantic audio book providing the perfect ambiance for her creativity. As she works she loses track of time, at times taking weeks to achieve the right look.
As word spread about her dolls, Helena decided to give back to all her loyal customers by providing one-day doll making workshops for 5-20 students. By supplying commercial doll mould parts and Helena's easy to follow instructions, miniaturists can try their hand at making their own dolls.
Her website offers dolls for sale, her own self-help booklets on every aspect of doll making, doll kits, doll bodies, and supplies. You can also download free workshops with guidelines and patterns. Helena clearly loves to share her skills with others.
Helena Reijnen, Leuvensestraat 144A, 1800 Vilvoorde, Belgium
Email: [email protected]
This feature was originally published in Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine. If you like making miniatures, why not buy yourself a copy of the magazine. Or better still take out a subscription so you never miss an issue. For fans of Facebook and Twitter, or to email, print or comment on the feature, please use the buttons above to share with your friends.
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