Saturday, February 22, 2014

Surface Journeys - Hand embroidered dolls by Leslie Rodger's

 Thanks for stopping in. 

The Wellness Arts Gallery invites you to a reception of Leslie Rodger’s "Surface Journeys”, an exhibit of hand embroidered dolls March 7th 2014,    5:00pm to 8:00pm.  ”Surface Journey’s” opened on February 7th and runs through March 29th, 2014. The reception’s herbal table will feature hot seasonal savory soup with the tasting spotlight on one of Quilter’s Comfort, locally blended, certified organic seasonings; and sampling of beer, coffee and wine jelly (made using locally sourced coffee, beer and wine)  available for take home pleasure.  

The Wellness Arts gallery is located in Patricia’s Wellness Arts Café, 725 West Kirkwood Avenue at the Western entrance to the BEAD.  Free parking lot to the east and on the street. 
Sign up for Art Doll Making workshops in the Wellness Arts Gallery.  

Leslie Rodgers Artist Statement

     When I was a girl my father would draw with me.  He would make a mark on the paper, and I would add a mark.  He’d put in a squiggle and I’d scribble a bit.  In awhile it would become apparent what the picture wanted to be, and then we’d finish it to our mutual satisfaction.  It was wonderful fun, and it taught me somehow to see things that weren’t quite there yet. I loved this collaborative work, although I didn’t know such a big word for it yet.

       Now my favorite way to work is to start from something else.  Piles of paper, stacks of cloth, pots of paint all delight me, but nothing is more inspiring than a found object, something that I can see into. I like to work with unknown makers this way, extend the collaboration through time and space.

Visit the Wellness Art Café page for Leslie’s complete artist statement and biography.

For more on her art dolls visit or contact Leslie Rodgers’ at

    In the 1940’s my Aunt Dorothy was living on a farm in Kentucky and in the winter she had time to sew for her own pleasure.  She
made a set of rag dolls of different sizes using a pattern she bought for a dime from a newspaper advertisement. They were made of plain cloth with hair of rust colored woolen yarn and embroidered faces. They were meant to resemble my red-haired aunts, and most of them were dressed in calico dresses like the house dresses women wore then. One wore a nurse’s uniform like my aunt herself.

   When my uncle died my aunt packed up her belongings and came back home to Indiana.  She moved back to the family house in Vincennes, and many of her boxes and trunks went into the garage.  Time passed, things not needed were forgotten and never unpacked. Mice came to live in the garage. Bugs arrived. The garage developed a leak.
     After several decades of this neglectful storage the old house and garage were to be torn down.   My brother and I, inheritors of the house and therefore responsible for everything in it, began the long arduous task of going through all the boxes and trunks. My grown daughters came to help us. It took all summer.   Late that June the bottom fell out of a box and my brother tossed me a doll leg.  There was an arm too, and part of a second arm.   They were foul smelling, dirty, moth-scalped and mouse eaten. 
     We began to find doll parts, scattered in various dilapidated boxes, I considered consigning them to the dumpster, which seemed the most logical end for them, but as the number of found parts grew I sensed a spark of life, a glimmer of potential.  I brought home the collected parts, cleaned them and reassembled them, creating new limbs to replace the missing ones, mending the places where they were mouse eaten.  This was satisfying work.
    Rather than dress the dolls I began to stitch on them with pearl cotton, adding colors and shapes as each piece seemed to tell me what it needed next.  The first batch of dolls was done between July and December of 2006.  The dolls became my constant companions.  I worked on them   daily in the studio and often carried parts of them in my book bag to stitch on in free moments throughout the day.  Then I found a set of unstuffed doll bodies my mama had made in the mid 1950’s. They were part of a project for a church bazaar, she’d made several completed and dressed dolls but had run out of time so several cut and sewn bodies had ended up tucked into a drawer in her sewing room and forgotten.  Life had gone right on without them for half a century.   I brought them out, stuffed them and embellished them, glad of a chance to have more dolls to work on. Or play with.

    In the years since I’ve discovered more dolls.  They sometimes lurk at garage sales, flea markets and auctions.   Apparently my family was not the only ones to make dolls, nor the only ones to neglect them or forget about them entirely.  Our mice were not the only ones to industriously devote their time to chewing holes in dolls to pull out the stuffing for a nest.  

    The doll stitching is a delight to me, pleasant work that makes me contentedly happy.  I’d do it even if no one but me ever saw a single one of them.   I could be the Henry Darger of tatty old rag dolls.
        Wherever I go I keep an eye open for some poor nibbled and stained girl who needs making over.  I can go months or years without seeing one at all, and then suddenly find a pair or a clutch of them from someone’s attic cleaning.  I was lucky to get copies of the original patterns, but I’ve never used them to make a doll, only to make a replacement leg.  I’ve realized I don’t want to make this type of doll as a new doll.  What interests me is working with old dolls, having someone else’s work as a starting off point. I like it that the dolls have a history; many of them have been around much longer than I have.  I like it that my work is collaboration with unseen hands of another time and place.   I even like collaborating with the mice that have nibbled the bodies and the long ago children who stained the faces in play.

  It can take anywhere from 80 to a few hundred hours to embellish the dolls with tiny stitches, depending on the size of the original doll and how much mending she requires.  It’s an intuitive process; I seldom know where it’s going until we get there.  The dolls have always had a life of their own.  I just bring my needles and threads and come to play.   

Visit the Wellness Art Café page for Leslie’s art biography.

For more on her art dolls visit or contact Leslie Rodgers’ at
The Wellness Arts Gallery features the work of local artist, craftspeople and creative people from around the earth.  During the winter we are open Tuesday through Friday, 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm; Saturdays, 12 pm to 5 pm and first Friday’s 1:00 – 8:00 pm
Artist interested in exhibiting their works in the Wellness Arts Gallery or in presenting a class or workshop are invited to contact us.  We look forward to meeting you and discussing the possibility of you exhibiting your work with us or sharing your skills.
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