Article by Marcia Darnell
Local Artist – September 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine
Some things can’t be repressed — like talent.
Sandi Patterson took a 35-year hiatus from art to raise a family in Brighton. Then she and her husband, Cart, retired to Crestone.
“Coming down here and the whole change of lifestyle is so peaceful,” she says. “I didn’t do any artwork for 35 years, but I picked it up again down here.”
What she picked up is the amazing skill of dollmaking. Her creations are all one-of-a-kind and handmade, down to their clothing. The parts she doesn’t make herself are top quality.
“I use glass eyes and the best grade of mohair I can find,” she says.
Some of the dolls’ props are bought through hobby shops (like the steamer trunk for the Victorian lady) or found in nature (like the leaves and twigs for the bear hunter), but Patterson’s imagination does the rest. Her Amadeus doll includes a copy of a Mozart manuscript, shrunk to scale, and the old man on the park bench has a tiny copy of the Saguache Crescent.
Patterson has been creating dolls for only three years, but is already an established professional. She’s a member of the Professional Dollmakers Art Guild and was invited to the International Toy Fair in New York last February.
“Just as the fair was closing and I was trying to get out of there, two men — I call them the men in black — took my card and asked me if I’d be interested in molding doll heads for mass production,” she says. “I said `yes,’ and they just nodded and left. I have no idea who they are or how to get in touch with them.”
The mysterious men are sure to call, however, since doll heads are Patterson’s specialty. She spends more time on a doll’s head than on the rest of the creation. Her dedication shows in the details. “Kate” is a 19th-century rancher with a face that shows the effects of age, weather and lots of hard work. Her “Dollmaker” gazes at his creation with love and pride.
In addition to talent, Patterson is blessed with the gift of generosity. She joyfully shares what she’s learned with students in intensive three-day workshops.
“I enjoy teaching,” she says. “I see people come in here overwhelmed by what they’re expected to do, and when they leave they’re so happy.”
The classes are offered in September and November and cost $150, which includes lunches and materials, except for clothing. The days are long and the work is hard, but the students — and the teacher — love it.
“Everybody is thrilled,” Patterson says. “Seeing the joy that people get out of making the doll, it’s just incredible.”Patterson was a painter before she became a horse rancher and mother of nine. When she retired, her daughter sent her a sample pack of polymer clay. What might have been a minor craft for some became artwork for her. She sculpted small people, each with distinct appearances and personalities.
Inspired by the possibilities of the clay, she found a magazine that detailed how to make bodies for larger dolls.
“I saw that and I told my husband, ‘I just have to do this!'”
Now Patterson has business dealings with toy sellers and ships her doll bodies all over the country and as far away as Queensland, Australia.
Despite having to attend to business details, Patterson still finds time to enjoy life with her husband, Cart, who owns his own creative enterprise, Bugling Bull Taxidermy. Once the number crunching is done, though, it’s back to the clay.
“I can’t jump back and forth,” Patterson says. “If I’m going to create, I have to have my business stuff done.”
Patterson is currently preparing for a competition at the Rocky Mountain Doll Fantasy, slated for July 11 and 12 at the Denver Merchandise Mart. The theme of the competition this year is “The Civil War,” and Patterson is working on a wounded soldier from the African-American Infantry.
“I see that wounded soldier in my mind,” she says. “I know just what he looks like.”
During breaks from sculpting the soldier (she can spend up to six hours on each hand), Patterson is doing research on the Internet and at Adams State College on uniforms and weapons.
“I do love competition,” Patterson says. She enjoys the critique as much as anything, finding it the best way to learn.
Networking is also an important part of her business. Part of why she teaches is to build a bigger network of dollmakers in the region.
“Dollmakers in Colorado are scarce,” she says.
Patterson is also busy creating new lines of merchandise. In addition to her large, expensive dolls, she produces a line of “Godiva Girls” and other small, less expensive people.
“My ’50s teenagers are very popular,” she says. “I sell them as fast as I make them.”
Teenagers, Victorians, soldiers and hunters. Sandi Patterson makes ’em all.
For information on her dolls or classes, contact Sandi Patterson, P.O. Box 97, Crestone, CO 81131. Phone (719) 256-4235, Fax (719) 256-4209, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcia Darnell lives and writes in Alamosa. She’s intermittently working on a book on the museums of the San Luis Valley.