Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Maraja's Alice - 1959

When I was a little girl, I spent many a rainy day, and sunny one, studying and immersing myself in the books my sister was given for the holidays.  Having been born five years before me, and the first child, my mother seemed intent on enriching her life with beautifully illustrated children's storybooks.  When I came along, and having noticed that my sister showed no interest in the books, book gifting seemed to have lost my mother's interest.  However, the books were there, and I innocently claimed ownership of them. 

One of them was The Adventures of Pinnochio, illustrated by Maraja.  These fabulous pictures captured my imagination, and while I never read the story, I knew it by heart through the lavish paintings.  It was a curiosity to me because they looked nothing like the ones Disney drew, and of which we were supposed to relate.  For all I knew, this was the only book someone named Maraja illustrated. 

It wasn't until the advent of the Internet, and my keen collecting for antiquarian children's books, that I began a search for my own copy of The Adventures of Pinocchio.  When I did, I discovered a wealth of other childhood stories illustrated by Maraja, and one by one I began collecting them.  

Libico Maraja (1912-1983) was one of Italy’s top post-War illustrators. Born in Bellinzona, Svizzera, Maraja studied in Lugano and began his career working for the Ala studios. In 1940, he moved to Berlin, where he cooperated with IMA Film, among others for the animated film ‘La Rosa di Bagdad’. After the war, he became well known for his book illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Adventures of Pinocchio, Peter Pan, and many other classics. These were the years he worked with the Italian publishing house Fabbri.  Pinocchio was his first published children's classic in 1955.  These beautiful books were printed in Italy for the publishers Grosset and Dunlap (NY).

Many of these old books can be found today in various stages of condition.  I'd like to think that they were just as loved as my sister's was, when I sat quietly for endless hours admiring the gracious Blue Fairy.  I purchased my own copies of Alice in Wonderland, and recently Alice Through the Looking Glass, to add to my collection.  When I completed Delamare's Alice, I knew there was just one more art doll Alice I'd need to do before the end of this year - Maraja's. 

Having desired to make a needle felt Humpty since I began dabbling in the craft, I chose Maraja's for his simplicity of clothing and innocent appeal.  I'd recently found a Wendy Lawton "Phoebe Preble", minus her Hitty doll, and purchased her for the purpose of turning her into Maraja's Alice.

Alice began her transformation with a new set of blue eyes, and a little blonde wig.  The wig was particularly difficult to find since the style Maraja gave her wasn't one my supplier, Monique, had available.  I'll admit that I enjoy using human hair wigs for their richness and beauty, but acquired a wig targeted for the BJD market instead.  When Monique Trading is out of stock, do check Ebay for the style, color and size you want.  Many Ebay dealers purchase Monique stock for their online stores.     

Alice's dress is a heavy cotton sateen.  This would not have been my first choice in fabric weight, but the color was just perfect.  I had the most difficult time, again, with the collar.  The bodice, of course, is everything.  That's where all the detail is nine times out of ten.  I had to make that collar four times before I had it correct!  For one, the fabric has such a tight weave that I had to use a jeans needle to get though all the thicknesses.  Also, this doll's body is all porcelain, like Asian Alice's was, only along with the round tummy Wendy gave these dolls, the arms are huge and bent.  Fitting the clothing on this body as you construct it takes a great deal of patience. 

I was very happy with the outcome of the pinafore though.  After making apron after apron in all the various styles, this one came together rather quickly.  Although I was running out of Swiss Pima Batiste.  One of the continual problems I have is judging the length to cut the fabric for skirts.  I should know better by now.  Make it longer and you can always shorten it at the top of the waist.  In this instance, having goofed the first time around, I used the shorter version to make the apron ties at the end. 

But, prior to dressing Alice, I'd begun work on Mr. Dumpty.  Like I mentioned, I'd been wanting to make one for quite some time, but knew that he would require armature hands with fingers.  I had hoped this friend of mine would show me how to make then in person, but like all good intentions, this one went awry.  Hence, the first try on Delamare's monkey last month.  I do think this second pair went a bit better, but they're not easy to do.  The reason you want wired fingers is so that they can be posed, hold objects, shake Alice's hand at the right moment. 

Humpty Dumpty took me twice as long to make as Alice's garments.  Maybe longer.  Yes, I'm still learning to sew.  I always will be, but needle felting is still very new to me.  It was just last year at this time that I made that slice of pumpkin pie. 

The very shape of the egg man needed to be appropriate in scale to that of the illustration.  I don't know how many people follow to the letter, an illustration like I do, but many artists have much more imagination than I do. One of the best things you can do when felting the base form, is to get as tight a felting as possible.  This allows you to add features and top clothing without misshaping the original form as you proceed.  I had a great deal of difficulty with this.  But then, he was my first Humpty, and I do plan to do more.

I used several illustrations to get his facial features, which changed throughout each picture.  One illustrations was used for his ears.  Another was used for his upraised brow and sweet smile.  Was Humpty a nice Egg?  No, not really, but I wanted a sweet Humpty for Maraja's Alice.

I noticed while browsing on Pinterest, the different Humpty's others have felted, and none took photos of him from behind.  Getting him to sit properly was fairly difficult even with armature legs that could be bent into shape.  His bottom is an egg shape.  He doesn't have a proper bum to sit upon.  Why didn't I put him on a wall?  Because a wall would take an awfully long time to sculpt out of wool and I simply don't have that kind of room to display such a thing.  However, one that was possibly only a brick or two might have helped him sit better.  He rather "rocks" like an egg would.  Maybe I did do this correctly?  That's the A Type in me coming through.

I love Libico Maraja's work.  I have loved it for a life time already, and this was a precious and joyful project to work on.   I may just have to do a doll as his Blue Fairy, an a needle felt of his Pinocchio.  Someday.  The Blue Fairy had blue hair...but wait!  I think you might be able to get blue wigs for BJDs.  See?  Not so bad after all.

Below I've shared some of my favorite illustrations from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  These are very typical of the characters and figures he drew for Pinocchio.  I don't know quite how to describe them, and being at a loss for words has never been a problem for me - while writing.  They are caricatures in the extreme, but so fabulous that they illicit instant emotion within.  You feel them.  Experience them.  You can't just look at them and say, "That's a lovely illustration."  Each makes you feel the character, whether it is an alphabet, a fish or a old man. 

For those not so familiar with Through the Looking Glass, Alice encounters a knight who recites a poem to her, a song really, titled A-Sitting on A Gate. "I'll tell thee everything I can: There's little to relate.  I saw an aged man, a-sitting on a gate."  Maraja drew him fishing as he "set limed twigs for crabs".  I simply love this illustration.  I hope you enjoy this and the others as well.

It is now November and time to think about the coming holidays.  The cooler nights, the coming rains, the change of the clock.  Halloween was marvelous this year, and there's so much to look forward to, especially when we have an imagination.  Walk through some crackly, crunchy leaves and dream.

Miss E. Mouse    

Libico Maraja (1912 - 1983)

Monday, October 2, 2017

A September Tribute to David Delamare

Each September the first brings a wellspring of life to my senses.  For me its the beginning of my "holidays", since September is my birthday month.  This is followed by my next favorite event, Halloween, then the excitement of the first rain, the first snow, Thanksgiving, and finally, Christmas.

The four month season was a joy for me as a child since, being an odd little thing, I looked forward to the first days of school.  In my adult years, my mother and I would go out and look for the best autumn card we could find in August.  One that symbolized the season we both loved; something with autumn leaves at the very least.  Whoever could get this card mailed to the other first, to start the four month cycle of the Ber's, would "win".  I know it sounds silly, but we so treasured these months together, and we'd laugh ourselves silly over what we sent to each other.  And, she honestly sent the very best Halloween cards one could find.  She had her secret "haunts" and would never give away their locations.

As I was finishing up my last project with the March Hare, experiencing the last days of summer and anticipating autumn just around the corner, I'd been browsing Pinterest for Alice ideas - or maybe just for the delight of seeing what was out there.  The delightful autumn Tea Party scene that Hudson painted was now a part of my collection, and I was looking for something extraordinary to inspire me when I fell upon the work of David Delamare.

Excited and intrigued by what I saw online, I decided to see if there was a website dedicated to his work.  And, there was!  In fact I'd discovered that Delamare had published his own Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, lavishly illustrated with his surreal and fantastical conception of the story.  I couldn't resist the purchase of this book, and when it arrived, I was overcome with the sheer beauty of its presentation.  The slipcover box it arrived in was exquisite, and even the shipper was a keeper.  I'd already decided that I would have to bring his Alice to life in a doll, and was then set to find what I would do for her prop, or accessory.

Nestled within the first two pages of the book, I found a little slip of paper with a story, a small biography of the book written by his wife, Wendy Ice.  Its began with "In 2008, my husband, artist David Delamare, set off to illustrate this book."  What followed was a brief description of how Wendy put to the task of getting this beautiful book published, then two paragraphs that took my breath away. "At last, eight years after the beginning, on September 16th, 2016, David approved these pages for binding.  It was a triumphant week for him.  He was thrilled with the appearance of this volume and had also just finished the final painting for our next book (a collection of fairy art)."

"In the wee hours of September 19th, David tucked me into bed where we spoke of our gratitude for this adventure and our excitement for the future.  A few hours later, I woke to discover that he had died.  I found him seated beneath his easel where he often played with his rabbits."  I knew then and there, that this doll would be a tribute to his life and his extraordinary work on this book.  And, it all happened in September. 
One of the first things I discovered as I was looking for Alice's prop, was that David used anthropomorphic animals, of every kind, to symbolize the human elements of the story.  Sure, we all know that the story was filled with unusual animals, but he did something different, and that thrilled me.  What caught my eye were the paiges that painted the roses red.  They were monkeys!  And, what of that hat she can be seen wearing, and the monkeys, too?  They were chess piece crowns.  Had to do it.  Just had to do it.  Now, I'm not really "into" monkeys, but this little guy had to be made.  I'd never seen a monkey with a magnifying glass in his paws or hands, using it for painting those roses with precision.  This appealed to me equally, as I do most of my detail work under magnification.  So I jumped onto Ebay and looked for a 1:6 scale magnifying glass.  Hah!  I found one.  Accessory before the accessory.  Interesting that I would have to make him the right size to work with that tiny handheld magnifier (and yes, it really is one). But, the other incredible thing about David's Alice work, is that these are night scenes, by candle light, with umbrellas for stormy weather, and gentle moons dancing in the night skies.

Of course, there was Alice to make first, her dress, her boots, that chess piece crown...  I used one of Wendy Lawton's dolls for my Alice, and this time she was the Emily doll.  When I "rescued" her off Ebay, I wasn't sure exactly what I would do with her, but upon discovering David Delamare's Alice, I knew her face would be the perfect representation.  Some people claim her lips are too large, but Delamare seemed to drawn his own Alice with voluptuous lips, so she would work perfectly.  I changed her eyes to a hazel green, then braided a long, blonde, human hair wig for her wavy tresses.

Her boots were next, along with her stockings of large black and white stripes.  I would have to make these boots from scratch, but had the foot bed and pattern size from the 16" Mary Lennox.  Eight tiny black buttons close the sides on each boot.  I am no closer to finding boots easier to do than the last pair.  They simply take work.  Especially if you have to design a unique pair each time.  I got lucky with her striped stockings, finding the right width of stripe in a pair of thin people knee socks.

I used a cotton sateen for her dress. What's interesting, again, is how many different versions of a sleeve the artist will draw for the same character in a book.  After viewing all the paintings, the most recurring "sleeve theme", was a flutter sleeve, instead of the typical banded puff.  White collar, three black buttons down the front...these are common themes, but the black trim on the apron was another difference and joy to explore.   Her chess crown hat was a complete and utter challenge.  I used one of those lovely wool felt sheets from The Felt Pod which sews beautifully under a sewing machine needle.  The Felt Pod even provided the felt balls that top both hers and the monkey's crown.  Alice's dress has a self-half slip edged in lace, and the bodice is lined. 

But, let's talk about the monkey.  As long as I spent making Alice's costume, a good 3/5's of the time and effort was spent making him.  First of all, he is a wire armature needle felt character, but this time, and the for the first time, I made five fingered hands.  I'd tried to make one hand from a Youtube tutorial last June, as I knew that in the future, there would be a Humpty needing hands.  The tutorial I used is NOT Sarafina's.  She makes her hands with four digits.  Why?!  As much as people exclaim and rave over Sarafina, she is not thorough with her tutorials.  And, this other lady did a great job with her own tutorial for realistic hands. Just sayin'.  If you're wishing to try needle felting, look at a variety of the tutorials to find which suits your needs best. 

I must have worked on the monkey's facial features no less than eight hours, and often going back to revise and rework them.  Building a character like this takes an incredible amount of time and patience, but its worth it.  This little fellow even has "fur" on his face as well as long fur for "hair" in the back of his crown.  Several shades of gray were used for his garments, which included, once again. striped trousers.  I just happen to be attracted to stripes.  His shoes were interesting to make as well.  There were a lot of "firsts" creating him.  I'd originally intended for him to stand alone, but with diminishing shelf space, I decided to make him into a marionette.  The nice thing about wire armature is that your character can be posed.  I pointed his feet downward as he is hanging by marionette strings.  That was a fun touch.

The cards, back and front of one, were interesting to do as well.  Every piece of this character was needle felted, which means I had to make the fabric and card pieces from wool hanks.  Every detail is needle felted, like the spades.  I had to be creative in thinking of which card to use, since the illustration shows only one spade over his right chest.  Four seemed a nice balance to the look.  While decorating the back of the card, each area had to be felted then attached.  Two little "hidden" shoulder straps attach the two cards over his shoulders. His little armature fingers folded nicely around his magnifying glass and paint brush.  His own chess crown hat took some "doing", and by the end of it, I as ready to call it quits, although I did make Alice a red felt rose to hold.  I felt as exhausted as Alice looks landing in a pile of leaves at the bottom of the rabbit hole.

I've worried that people who enjoy my work are beginning to focus their attention on these needle felts and dismissing the costuming of dolls that I work so hard to accomplish.  Well, there's a lot of work that goes into both.  I enjoy dressing dolls from illustrations, but needle felting has certainly allowed me to give them more creative accessories and props. 

It was my promise to David's widow, Wendy Ice, that I would share a link to their lovely website.  If you enjoy his work, the art on this website will enchant you further.  Included in the attachments below,  a few of my favorites, are Alice images that would have nicely gone into a volume of Through the Looking Glass, but alas, we are left with the treasury of art David Delamare created before his passing.  It is almost as if this book were the one thing he strived for most in his life, and Wendy made that happen.

Miss E. Mouse

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Alice Illustrated in Gwynedd M. Hudson - Tea With the March Hare

Finally!  At last!  I feel like I've been away for ages.  Well, in a way, I have.  Early in August, the first week to be exact, I'd flown to Orlando to attend the UFDC summer convention.  Let's be honest...I was sick the entire time, but I had a ball.  It was one of the best conventions that I've been to.  And, one of the reasons was the people; the new friends I made, and the meeting up with the "gold" friends I've not seen in...well, yes, ages. 

Did I buy any dolls?  No.  But, I did come home with souvenir dolls from the ticketed events, and I love them all.  And, what of the Helper Alice and Miss Unity?  Alice has gone home to an "Alice" collector, and Miss Unity now resides at the UFDC headquarters, in Kansas City.

When I got home, it was straight to the doctor's I went, and I spent three weeks recovering.  In the last week, I began to feel well enough to venture into the project that has been in the hopper for quite some time.  I won't say this definitely, but I'm pretty sure that this is the last Alice Illustrated costume I'll do.  I believe this is her fourteenth, but who's counting?

Our little 12" Lawton-make-over Alice is now dressed in the lovely outfit that Gwynedd M. Hudson illustrated her wearing, in 1922. 

Gwynedd M. Hudson studied art at the Brighton School of Art.  She was a figure painter, illustrator, and poster artist.  She exhibited at the Royal Academy around 1912, that we know of.  She is best known for her editions of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which received the lavish gift-book treatment (started with the books of Dulac and Rackham), being issued as a large, elaborate book in both a trade and deluxe edition.  This deluxe edition was featured in the Bookman's Christmas Portfolio for 1922.  Gwynedd's Alice is generally considered one of the finest and has been repeatedly reprinted.  She illustrated, perhaps, half a dozen or so other books, mostly for poetry and religious purposes published for Hodder in delicate Art Nouveau watercolors.  Despite this, more information about Hudson is not easily found. 

While we all immediately recognize Alice in blue, she was dressed by countless illustrators throughout time in what I refer to as the fashion of the era.  This was not the only time Alice would be dressed in white, as Margaret W. Tarrant gave her a white version in 1916, and Bessie Pease Gutmann did one in 1907, among others.  I've always been attracted to Hudson's Alice, and first saw this done on a doll by Robin Woods for her Ultimate Alice set. 

Another reason I was artistically compelled to create this, and at this time of year, was due to the setting she gave to the Tea Party.  Normally done with summer greens, the leaves on her trees are distinctly autumn colors.  I had originally intended to needle felt the White Rabbit with his black fan, embroidered waistcoat and blue silk vest, but I'd just done a White Rabbit for the Korean Alice.  I considered other characters like the Mock Turtle with a soup tureen, but instead chose the crazy March Hare with his pink-iced cherry cake, as the colors would pop the display since the dress was "Sees Candies" white and black.  But, I get ahead of myself, as usual. 

Alice's dress is a micro stripe dimity.  It is textured and finely woven cotton.  The trim is black Petersham grosgrain.  The difference between Petersham and normal grosgrain is the edging.  With the Petersham, you get a ribbed effect, while the other is a straight, smooth edging.

Her pinafore is the Pima Swiss Batiste, all edged in cotton lace with two tiny pockets.

I fussed a bit trying to design this pinafore because there was no clear determination how the back of it looked.  I was told recently by a respected doll costumer that since it is just an illustration, made up in someone's head. that the dress is not real, the pattern not real.  My jaw dropped silently over the phone, and it really made me wonder what she was trying to pull.  After all, every single dress and garment that was ever made, came out of someone's head and a drawing on paper, an illustration!  Yet, this doesn't deter me, and I know better, and always do my homework.  A pinafore is a little apron that goes over a dress for playtime.  It is to keep the dress clean while the child plays, but heaven forbid it, alone, gets dirty.
So, I designed one from the 20's with a smock bodice instead of the straps we normally see.  Two tiny buttons close it in the back.  Large butterfly sleeve caps top float above the short puffed sleeves of her dress.  It was really something trying to pull this all inside out through the shoulders.  It is a lined bodice. 
She completes her look with a coral bead necklace, short socks, and the cross strap shoes she wears are the same ones I made for the blue and white striped dress by Agnes Richardson in 1923.  Same time frame.  I got lucky.  The coral necklace would be her only bright spot until I began needle felting her tea party mate and cake. 

In the meantime, I scoured Ebay for the pressed blue glass tea cups, and a miniature cake plate.

I began with the cake, thinking it would be easy, but I'd completely forgotten how to needle felt.  It happens.  Its not like riding a bike, I'm afraid.  After a failed attempt at squashing wool and poking the heck out of it, I decided to go back to a youtube of rabbit making, and a tutorial on print that I used for the Korean White Rabbit.  Neither was all that helpful, but they did encourage me.  After all, the March Hare that Hudson drew was anthropomorphic, and had crazy Bug's Bunny eyes.  I was doing a caricature, and this was different. 

As I studied the illustration of the Tea Party under the autumn leaves, I searched through the book I'd recently purchased (a fine copy of the original done by Pook Press), to look for what he wore under that table.  I found an illustration of the March Hare and Hatter stuffing themselves into a teapot, that you won't typically find in a Google search, as its in black and white.  I don't know if the original was enhanced with orange, but let's pretend it was.  What I discovered were a pair of man's legs in striped pants with rabbit feet sticking out.

I decided then that I would do the stripes in royal blue to provide a pleasing palette, and they just happened to match the blue of the glass tea cups. 

I was not confident, at any given time, that I'd be able to "pull off" doing the March Hare.  I really did have to reteach myself how to needle felt again, and it was a good lesson to not let this skill drift away.     
I began with his head figuring that this is the main feature of the March Hare.  This also helps gives you an idea, as you go along, how large the body should be.  He is made on thin wire armature, which allows for him to be posed,  however, once you get a good amount of wool felted to build his form, the amount of bending does decline.

I think one of the things I learned with him was how to build clothing on a body for a needle felted character.  To begin, you have to flat felt the wool to begin making pieces of the outfit that can be felted together.  I started with the vest since it went under the jacket, then began with the pants.  Now that I knew they were striped, and I'd selected a color, they went together fairly quickly.  The stripes were something I'd done before when I made the Cheshire Cat.  Still, this was a pair of pants, and I thought, as I went along applying the stripes, about how they would look if you cut out pattern pieces from striped fabric, so they would look natural.

The jacket took some thought as well, and I found that if you do the sleeves first, the jacket front and back can be felted on smoothly at the shoulders.  I felted his head wrap and black bow tie as well...even the buttons.  His whiskers are fishing line.  Why?  Well, it was available at the CVS, and it shows up better than nylon sewing thread.  There's a light green tint to fishing line, but it doesn't detract from the look of least on the March Hare.  The wheat strands, or grasses, are just that.  You can pick up these dried grasses in the floral area of a Michael's.  I colored them with those marvelous alcohol markers and gave them a good chance to dry overnight since they were going under a white head wrap. 

And, just what is a March Hare?  Its a popular British phrase based on a belief about the hare's behaviour at the beginning of the long breeding season.   Early in the season, unreceptive females often use their forelegs to repel overenthusiastic males. It used to be incorrectly believed that these bouts were between males fighting for breeding supremacy.  Could this be why he wears a head wrap?  Like he's been in battle?  Tossling in the grasses and getting wounded?  Anything is possible.

It has occurred to me that I could "do Alice", and nothing but, for the rest of my creative days!  I even have a new one planned that I wish to start right away.  But, Alice Illustrated's Gwynedd M. Hudson will be her last outfit for the time being.  And, I'm even thinking about making myself a yellow cake with cherries in it, pink cherry frosting, topped with cherries!  Doesn't it look yummy?

Miss E. Mouse