Designers such as Jess Brown know that the crucible of dollcraft is not the touch test, but the feel test. As early Americans proved in the swaddling of figurines with cornhusk and pine needles, fingertips are notoriously overrated in the evaluation of a doll. A fabulous doll, rather, is one that appears to feel, and inspire her owner to feel, an emotion true to the human condition. What I love about the Jess Brown collection goes far beyond the uniqueness of each design or the earthy sensibility of composing art from fabric remnants. The allure of her craft is in the nascent femininity caught in the expressions of the dolls: curveless bodies, teardrop-shaped heads adorned with nondescript faces, swordstitched dashes sufficing for eyes not yet opened to appreciate real evil.
While the temptation here is to link Brown’s work with an overall movement toward minimalism in toy design, or perhaps a cyclical revival of Folk Art, the truth is that the cloth doll genome maps out over centuries, as evidenced by the resurgence of dollmaking at the hands of Shoshone, Lakota Sioux, and other such tribal craftsmen. Brown’s special contributions to this tradition, however, are truly her own: bold, funny, and often intentionally incongruent design schemes, marked by unconventional hoods and hairpieces, clothing prints that are chic and mature, and a sense of time and place that is well-rooted without losing the whimsy that makes a girl fall in love with that doll in the window. Keep your Barbies and Cabbage Patch Kids. Jess Brown knows who she is, and something tells me the rest of the world soon will, as well.
Visit Jess Brown Design at: www.jessbrowndesign.com