So what do I do in my SPARE time? I work on my vintage fashion doll magazine, of course!
Yes, I’m a guy and I like dolls. That being said, I really like vintage Barbie and family dolls and am considered to be an expert on the subject – really! Almost more than the dolls themselves, I’m drawn to the fashions. And there are loads of fashion dolls other than Barbie, with weird, wild and wonderful wardrobes that are at times both fascinating and god-awful. But there’s just something about those mini fashion mannequins and their tiny shoes, gloves, purses and hats that I just can’t get enough of.
Now several years ago, the Barbie doll collecting market had a bit of a melt down and the collecting magazines went away. Hard-core vintage collectors (like me) have always missed them. There’s a crazy thrill or rush of excitement at seeing a gorgeous, mint condition doll in a pristine outfit that’s been beautifully photographed, especially when the subjects are hard-to-find examples. Call it doll crack or call it crazy, but when you’re into it, it’s awesome! So the fact that the publications I loved and wrote for were no longer around was always bugging me.
Enter my friend Barry Sturgill. Barry is a Seattle area photographer who just happens to be one of the top toy photographers in the world, and he’s nuts about vintage Barbie dolls too. Well our little doll-lovin’ minds got together for lunch about a year and a half ago and decided we needed to bring back a magazine devoted to vintage fashion dolls in general, not just Barbie, but the whole enchilada. As we figured it, with all the technological progress in the last ten years, doing an online publication would be a snap, right? HA!
Figuring we’d “just have to learn a little HTML” and be on our way, we dove into the project. And about three months later we realized we were way over our heads. Too much stuff that sounded sic-fi and well, technical, made our pretty artsy heads hurt, and we hired a tech-savvy design firm to help us make it a reality. We started tracking down obscure dolls, fashions and accessories. We found some knowledgable collectors who knew loads of stuff about dolls we were just vaguely familiar with, and our project started moving forward much faster.
January 2013: our premiere, online issue is published! 68 pages chock full of Barry’s gorgeous photos and loads of vintage doll info to make a collector’s head spin: Ideal’s Tammy doll, vintage Barbie’s first evening ensembles, information on clone dolls (knock-offs made of the more expensive, brand-name toys, sometimes using pirated molds), obscure dolls like Bonnie Breck – this issue wasn’t just good, it was GREAT!
Our 2nd issue came out at the end of May featuring Dawn. A lot of people think my project – and me – are a bit weird, but I don’t really care about that. I’ve got a completed product that I’m really proud of and it does what I wanted it to do – entertain, educate, and get readers excited about toys we loved as kids. And even if we don’t get to hold them in our hands, we can still feel that same thrill we had walking through the toy department or ripping into a beautifully wrapped birthday or holiday gift bearing a tag with our name on it…FUN!
And now we’ve got our 3rd issue out – we’ve “embraced” online marketing and social media (to the best of our abilities) and have a Twitter account, a Facebook page and even use MailChimp for our marketing and email updates – how’s that for creative-type-meets-the-interweb?
Hey – even if you’re not into dolls, you might love seeing some gorgeous pictures and reading some humorous stuff about toys. It’s a mid-century vinyl love fest – check out or website and buy a copy – it’s just $5.99! Oh yeah – and it’s an online publication – we hope it will be in print soon, but right now you view it on your computer.
My friend EJ and her husband recently purchased a new house circa 1961. The house needed work, but EJ is always up to a challenge and she had great ideas to modernize it while leaving a lot of the wonderful mid century details intact. She enlisted my help on the project, and we had a great time knocking out walls, painting, restoring wood floors and trim, more painting, and of course, SHOPPING for new stuff!
Many years ago some different friends of mine were putting new flooring into their old house, and unearthed that cool old linoleum they used to do with borders or to make into the appearance of rugs. It was all cracked and broken, but I saved a couple of the prettier pieces, squared them up and framed them, and gave them to them as found “art”, and a reminder of the old. So remembering that, I started “shopping” all the junk that we were ripping out and throwing out of EJ’s place. The kitchen ended up being a goldmine of project and crafting bits, I just needed them to reveal what they were waiting to be transformed into.
The previous owners had decided to “Victorianize” their very ’60s kitchen by applying layer upon layer of decorative moldings and trims to the cabinets. It might not have been so hideous if they’d actually finished the project, but they seemed to run out of steam and never bothered to PAINT the raw wood trim, and in some cases, didn’t bother to nail it up either, but “secured” it in place with blue painters tape – UGH. Well I knew some of the decorative trim was a definite keeper, and started squirreling bits of it away right from the start.
One cool thing about the kitchen was it still had the original countertops intact! They weren’t perfect, but they were a wonderful ’60s snapshot of decorator chic – white with tiny leaves of aqua, coral, chocolate and chartreuse with a sprinkle of gold across it all. Once those slabs of old formica were ripped out I knew I had to put a couple chunks into my treasure bag too.
The last bit of inspiration came from the electrical wiring. The kitchen had these bizarre and ultra-dangerous electrical outlets – a double plug per outlet that weren’t even grounded! In fact they were so scary, the building inspector told EJ he couldn’t sign off on the safety of the kitchen because the plugs had to be replaced – no questions asked. This was the perfect little bit of kitchen inspiration and nostalgia I needed to move forward.
The first item was quick and simple. My handy work friend, Marc, trimmed a piece of wood with decorative molding and we glued a piece of the formica on top to become a trivet. It’s really a decorative trivet because this old formica can burn or melt if something hot gets on it, but it looks pretty cute and I know EJ will find a use for it. I just needed to fill the nail holes with spackle, sand and paint – easy.
The second project I envisioned was a “shadowbox” to showcase the cool but crazy dangerous plug. Marc made me a little box,trimmed it with the decorative wood, and I had him back it with the formica. Some more spackle, sanding and painting and it’s a pretty dang cute little piece of art for the kitchen wall, isn’t it?
You could easily use these ideas as a starting off point for your own craft projects made from parts of the old house. I used the formica, wood pieces and an electrical outlet, but there are dozens of bits you could salvage for housewarming gifts or from a remodel project of your own: cabinet knobs or pulls, house numbers, old shingles, decorative wood trim and molding from baseboards or ceilings, fireplace bricks – the list is endless and your imagination is going to go crazy with it once you put your creating hat on. In fact I’ve got quite a few bits of decorative wood trim available and some small glass tiles – maybe a birdhouse?
It’s another summer RING at Seattle Opera (you can read all about that if you click here), and as this is the third one I’ve worked since 2005, lots of my favorite singers are back in town, including several who own my sock monkeys! You can click on the following to see my creations for performers Greer Grimsley, Gordon Hawkins and Rosetta Greek. But I’ve never posted pictures of the monkey I made for the super talented Luretta Bybee.
Luretta is a southern lady. She’s beautiful, charming, gracious, is a Chair of Vocal Arts at the New England Conservatory, has a wonderful sense of humor and she’s a mezzo-soprano opera star with a heavenly voice. A couple years back, Seattle Opera produced a new work, Amelia, and Luretta was cast as Amanda, a 1960s homemaker who was the mother of the show’s namesake, Amelia. I’d worked with her on several shows before this, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity for her to get her own monkey.
Now you could put Luretta in a tin can and she’d look gorgeous, but she literally stepped out of a guest starring role on the Donna Reed show in her striped shirtwaist dress, pearls, and flip hairstyle – she looked amazing. The dress was pretty easy to do, but the collar was a little tricky on the smaller scale. I decided to cut it from felt and top stitch it to the dress rather than trying to do it “for real” – the notched collar was more work than I wanted to do and the felt gave it the same look as the costume. The apron was easy, but I added a hanky because my grandmother always had one in her apron or smock pocket and I think Amanda would have used one too. The character wore a locket, and I found the tiniest one I could for her. I put a little picture of her real husband – opera superstar Greer Grimsley – as well as her stage husband – the phenomenal tenor, Bill Burden – into the locket so she’d have them both close to her little monkey heart. Then I stitched on some “pearls” for earrings and got my friend Anne McGowan in the hair and makeup department to create the perfect little ’60s flip hairstyle for her. She’s awesome!
When I got ready to do the photo of her, I envisioned her standing at a stove with a pot holder in hand. Since sock monkeys don’t really have fingers to hold anything, I created an oven mitt for her, and posed her in front of my mom’s childhood toy stove from the 1940s. Let me tell you, this is no cheap Easy Bake oven, but an electric stove with a HOT hot plate and an oven with a working thermostat – my brothers and I used to make burgers in a tiny frying pan on it when we were kids. It was exactly what Amanda needed and the photo is perfect!
Luretta was so happy to get her little Amanda, and Greer told me later that it ended up costing him a lot of money because Luretta wanted to redecorate their music room to display his Wotan monkey with her. Now seriously, am I really responsible for that?