By Dawn M. Aerts
Iron County Today
KANARRAVILLE–Louise Bowles has no specific title behind her name, but she is a maker of sorts, a designer in practice, and a specialist in the charming, though obscure world of doll making.
The tools of her practice are fine needles and pins, tiny beads and sturdy strings.
She studies her visions of design like all crafts people would –from her work table and kitchen just outside of Kanarraville. While she has spent hours revamping hems, bustles and rows of billowing gown, mostly her dolls are small and intricate figures of color and form.
“When I was younger, I used to design wedding gowns on paper, so it was all about fashion,” said Bowles of growing up in small town in Mississippi, and later Oregon. “In the 1960’s you really had to dress up for weekend occasions and school – I was always a ‘girly-girl’ with the make-up and the hair. And, I always appreciated beauty.”
While her sisters and mother had a similar interest in both art and crafts, Bowles said her creative bent was always in women’s fashion. “I always liked things that made women feel beautiful,” so it was when her Mom began to create porcelain dolls that Bowles decided to create her own version.
The flamboyant collection of miniature dolls line a shelf like some Hollywood fashion show – there’s the Crystal Gazer doll; and Tara the Scarlett-O’Hara-inspired doll of Antebellum days. There’s the Holly-Go-Lightly character doll (from “My Fair Lady” fame).
But each tells a story about the era, the fashion and the glamour of the age.
Bowles talent is not only in following patterns and the nuances of needlework or crochet, but in her vision for the finished composition. She also has a keen eye for detecting a faulty line or misplaced beads hanging against a row.
“I have to say that I have found myself saying, ‘No, that’s definitely not going to make it in this composition — we’ll have to take it apart and start all over again.’” Some may call her work tedious detail, but Bowles argues it is part of the creative process that keeps her challenged.
Over the past decade, she has worked on dozens of unique designs and dolls, spending hours mastering the fine art of design. “I knew I didn’t want to go to any classes,” said Bowles of her past work, “And I wasn’t interested in the porcelain doll. But I did like to work with 12-inch size, using materials, (this and that), which were inexpensive yet beautiful.”
She likes to personalize each doll and to tell a story about their history.
Her dolls have matching hats, and sometimes umbrellas or fans, pantaloons with bustles or underskirts to match. “I had always worked with afghan-patterns, crocheted pieces and embellishments. But with these dolls, I begin with the image of the doll I’m trying to create.”
In her collection, there is one from the Civil War era, and a colorful Victorian Lady in pink.
You might say she takes a holistic approach to her creations: what they once were, and with a little imagination and skill, what they can be again. Yes, Bowles knows her dolls. She keeps details on their progress and changes, knows the year of their fashionable clothing and style, and how they looked down to buttons and bows.
“I made the first (a wedding doll) for my mother,” said Bowles of her start. Then there was one for my husband’s niece; and then for my sisters and more recently for friends who want their own one-of-a-kind doll. She follows a meticulous process with each, from analyzing their structure to what will be part of their personality – are they attending a luncheon or are they out for a stroll?
The most difficult in her collection was her rendition of the Duchess, Marie Antoinette. Bowles said she has well over 100 dolls waiting for their day, their fashion-statement from the past. “I try to match dolls to the person – sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and some get re-cycled.”
Bowles says her dolls require a good deal of patience and care. “You really need to be committed to something like this, to concentrate and for me, find a way to relax and enjoy the process.” Over the next few months, she will be working on at least two for family or friends who appreciate her talent in doll making.
“These are really extensions of myself – I’m not a very vocal person, but each of these dolls makes a statement, the image of a lady, of history, and of me.”
Photo Caption: Louise Bowles, of Kanarraville, is a unique artist that specializes in creating one-of-a-kind fashionable dolls with clothing designs that epitomize the character, the history and the fashion statements of women in history.