Monday, August 27, 2018

Paper Dolls are Having a Good Week in Pop Culture!

From my basement office in Kingfield, Maine, to the airways across North America and beyond, paper dolls have been catapulted into the pantheon of pop culture!

Last Tuesday, my own little paper doll company, Paper Studio Press, got a huge plug on LA Daily, my favorite show about "all things pop culture" on SiriusXM's Entertainment Weekly Radio Channel 105. Through social media, I connected with show host Julia Cunningham over our mutual love of indie films. Her daily reports from the 2017 SCAD Savannah Film Festival inspired me to start my own #indiemoviemarathon, watching one or two indie films every couple of weeks at the Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville, Maine.

Julia Cunningham, host of LA Daily on SiriusXM Channel 105

When award season rolled around, I was ready, having seen most every film nominated. To celebrate, I sent Julia a care package of paper dolls including David Wolfe's Fashions That Rocked and Wrecked the Red Carpet. Soon after, Julia enthusiastically talked about my publishing company and our paper dolls on her show. That evening in December, while wrapping Christmas gifts and listening to Julia boast about paper dolls on LA Daily, an idea sparked in my head: start a line of Pop Culture Paper Dolls. This new line would feature pop culture subjects, both retro and contemporary, and the books would include fun elements like a trivia quiz, pop culture tidbits and even retro recipes. I put the word out to paper doll collectors and artists, and the ideas... and art... quickly came in.

The first two books in this new series came out this month: Retro Space Girls, by Brenda Sneathen Mattox, and Broadway Sensations, by Cory Jensen. I immediately sent copies to Julia and she immediately mentioned them on her show, between her report of the VMAs and her interview with James Brolin! Not only did she mention these books, she read half of my letter on air and encouraged her listeners to collect paper dolls! Please check out her show, LA Daily on SiriusXM Channel 105 and follow her on Twitter and Instagram. Thank you, Julia! You are the best! 

Now if that wasn't enough excitement for one week, this morning I got news that the new Decoder Ring Podcast for Slate Magazine has been released. The subject? PAPER DOLLS!!

Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Each month the hosts take on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speak with experts, historians, and obsessives to figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters. And for the month of August, 2018, the podcast opens a very interesting window into the cultural history of paper dolls, focusing on the life story of our own David Wolfe.

Paper Doll of David Wolfe by Benjamin Frisch

Co-host Benjamin Frisch interviewed several of us in the paper doll world including artist Cory Jensen, collector Emi Lotto and myself. For the interview with David, a sound crew was sent to his apartment in Palm Springs, CA. During the three-hour interview, David talked about playing with paper dolls as a little boy and how he had to hide them in the bottom of a drawer. Growing up in Ohio in the 1950s, being gay wasn't even a consideration. Being a sissy was taboo, yet David managed to dress up for Halloween as Carmen Miranda several years in a row. David escaped into a world of fantasy through glamorous movies and drawing paper dolls. That passion laid the groundwork for his very successful career in fashion illustration and trend forecasting. As he approached retirement years, he returned to his childhood love of drawing paper dolls. David revealed a lot about his difficult family life; his mother and brother both suffered from mental illness. Before the podcast was released, David worried that he'd sound like "a dotty old queen." Oh, David, the podcast is BRILLIANT. His story is interesting, compelling, impressive and heart-warming. OK, I am bias, but I think you'll agree! 

Please listen to Decoder Ring: The Paper Doll Club. Woven through David's story is the cultural connection of paper dolls to fashion, creativity, nostalgia and queerness. Plus song snippets from the Mills Brothers' hit "Paper Doll" and Golden Records' "Paper Family." Thanks, Decoder Ring, for putting the pop culture spotlight on Paper Dolls!

Golden Records, 1952 
by Anne Lloyd, Michael Stewart, The Sandpipers, Mitchell Miller and Orchestra

There’s a paper man
in a paper house
on a paper street
in a paper town
in a little paper world
that belongs to me.

Every morning he
gives his paper wife
and his paper child
a paper kiss
and he goes to work
in a paper factory.

You may not believe
that they can move and walk.
But if you use your imagination,
dolls can even talk.

So take a few small pieces of paper,
and make yourself
a sweet little paper man
and a paper wife
and a paper boy
and a paper girl
and a paper dog
and a paper cat.
A paper family.

And if you use your imagination,
you will see that they can be
as real as you and me.

So make yourself
a paper man
and a paper wife
and a paper boy
and a paper girl
and a paper dog
and a paper cat.
A paper family.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Move Over Disney World, a Paper Doll Convention is the Happiest Place on Earth

The 2018 Paper Doll Convention is now a memory, or rather a multitude of memories. Hosted by Sharry and Micheal O’Hara, July 4-8 in Seattle, WA, it was truly an Entertainment Extravaganza, which was appropriately the theme of this year’s event.

A rare Scouting set from the collection of Lorna Currie Thomopolous.

You know what’s the most important thing about a paper doll convention? Paper dolls you might say? While paper dolls are the common denominator, it’s the people who make it an enriching, fun, heart-warming experience.

People + paper dolls = the perfect world. Why? First, let’s talk about paper dolls. This seemingly innocuous paper plaything can spark joy, memories, history, artistry and imagination. During the first half of the 20th century, paper dolls were the number one pastime for many girls. With a paper doll book, you could get a lot of bang for your buck, or dime as the case was back in the day. And paper dolls were readily available in women’s and children’s magazines and newspapers, too.

In today’s throw-away world, we are lucky that previous generations saved those precious paper playthings, and we get to see a dizzying number of them at our annual conventions. The sales room offers a plethora of vintage paper dolls, enticing buyers to add to their collections, start collecting a new subject or reunite with a beloved treasure from childhood. Rare, special paper dolls are on display in the Competition and Special Exhibits room. It’s like having our own mini paper doll museum, marking history through subjects and fashion.

Antique treasures on display in the Competition room.

More treasures from Competition and Special Exhibits. The paper doll on the right was made by my Grammy in the '70s!

And then there’s the artistry! Paper dolls wouldn’t exist without the talented artists who imagined, designed, illustrated and painted them. Stand-outs from the past include Queen Holden, Hilda Miloche, Louise Rumley and Norman Mingo to name a few. Artists of today have become celebrities at paper doll conventions. During a panel discussion at this year’s event, Susie Fisher expressed sentiments felt by so many of us when she shared that her favorite part of the convention was meeting the artists she had admired for years including Norma Lu Meehan, Bruce Patrick Jones, David Wolfe, Kwei-lin Lum and Brenda Sneathen Mattox. These and many other wonderful artists keep paper dolls alive for today’s collectors and future generations. 

Kevin Wilkins, Brenda Sneathen Mattox and Norma Lu Meehan in the Artists Gallery.

And that brings me to the people. A paper doll convention is populated with so many interesting and talented people! During our “Getting to Know You” panel discussion we found out that Susie Fisher is a world traveler, Valerie Keller works as a video editor and Syra Beth Puett is an actress.

Our amazing collectors and artists have so much to contribute, and we get to experience their passions through enriching workshops and programs. For example, you could turn yourself into a movie star paper doll in a workshop with Beverly Micucci, make an articulated dancing doll with Sylvia Kleindinst, create a shadowbox wardrobe with Brenda Sneathen Mattox or decorate Dolly Levi with David Wolfe and Sharry O’Hara.

Reflecting the convention theme of Entertainment Extravaganza, our programs included topics such as Vaudeville, British musicians, Star Trek fashions, theatre posters and showgirl headdresses. We were also treated to a very special program given by Karolyn Grimes about her experiences as a child actress, in particular her role of Zuzu Bailey from the Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Click here for a detailed description of all of the 2018 workshops and programs. 

Workshop and Competition fun.

Each year the convention follows a similar format. Wednesday: optional tour and welcome reception. Thursday: workshops, programs, artists gallery. Friday: sales room. Saturday: competition, special exhibits, programs, raffle. Sunday morning: program. And there are typically three banquet dinners, often with dress-up themes and entertainment. And... tons of amazing paper doll souvenirs!

Because Sharry and Micheal are involved in community theatre, we were treated to extra special performances. On Wednesday, in celebration of the 4th of July, we enjoyed a mini-performance of the Broadway show, “1776,” and on Friday we were serenaded with a selection of showtunes by the Bodacious Ladies. Each day, we appreciated the exuberant enthusiasm and thoughtful details put into every aspect of our convention by our hosts, Sharry and Micheal O’Hara. 

Dressed up for Broadway, in celebration of "The Great White Way."

Although the programs, workshops and events make for an good time, the real reason I attend year after year is to spend time with the people who have become so dear to me that it feels more like a family reunion. Even if there was nothing at all on the schedule, I’d still make the trip to connect with close friends… and make new ones. The connections I’ve made in the paper doll community have enriched my life in so many ways. Paper doll people are inspiring, entertaining, interesting, supportive and loving.

Here are some of my favorite memories: 

SIGHTSEEING WITH KWEI-LIN LUM. Starting with an Azuki donut in the Chinatown-International District and ending up at the top of the Space Needle, we had a glorious day together before the convention kicked in. 

Kwei-lin and I enjoyed an Azuki donut at at Fuji Bakery.

NEW ROOMIE. Tracy Williams is kooky in the best way. At one point Tracy said she appreciated that I accepted her eccentricities. Accept them? I celebrate them! 

Who illustrated a whole collection of drag queens on paper plates? Tracy did!

PICKING UP LAURA CUSHING-KIDNEY. OK, it wasn’t like picking up someone in a bar… During a fun photo op, Laura was being silly and kicked her leg in the air. Well, I grabbed her leg and then the other leg and picked her right up. She’s little and I’ve been weight training so it was easy for me, but Laura was terrified! I promised not to pick her up again, but we did vow to get together during the year since she lives just a few hours away. 

Color-coordinated with Laura Cushing-Kidney... feet on the floor!

MARTINIS WITH NORMA LU. This has become a tradition. Each year we find some down time to have a “sophisticated” get-together over martinis. This time we were joined by Norma Lu’s friend Lenore and we caught up on all the important topics in our lives. 

So happy to spend time with Norma Lu Meehan.

LUNCH WITH LINDA AND VAL. These two gals did a fantastic job running last year’s convention in Philadelphia. In contrast, this year they could simply enjoy the convention without all the stress and responsibility. The look of glee on their faces was priceless!

Linda Ocasio and Valerie Keller, previous convention hosts, especially enjoyed this year's event.

HASHTAGGING WITH BRENDA AND DAVID. OMG, this was the funniest time of the entire week. Hanging out in lounge chairs outside by the elevator on the third floor, David, Brenda and I got to talking about social media and hashtags. “What’s the purpose of a hashtag?” David asked. I explained that a hashtag can be used to identify and search for a topic on social media. As an example, a search for #roastingmarshmallows brought up more than 40,000 posts on Instagram. Now you can spend hours scrolling through those photos, clicking "like" and following people who posted those photos and their future posts. This entire concept prompted David to declare that civilization should end right now. HashtagDeathNow, we joked, and continued to hashtag everything we could think of, including people coming on and off the elevator. Our conversation ended with Brenda’s mic-dropping hashtag, #flatlivesmatter, the ultimate hashtag for paper dolls.

Brenda Sneathen Mattox, David Wolfe and Jenny Taliadoros... hashtag headdresses!

A DAY WITH SHARRY AND MICHEAL. After the convention I stayed an extra day to spend time with our warmly wonderful convention hosts. We had an amazing Thai lunch followed by a relaxing afternoon in the quaint seaside town of Gig Harbor, and then a stop by their house to meet their GIANT St. Bernards before a beautiful seafood dinner and finally saying tearful goodbyes at the airport for my overnight flight back to the east coast.

Cheers to Sharry and Micheal O'Hare for a spectacular convention!

It will be a year before I see most everyone again, but time goes by so quickly the 2019 Paper Doll Convention will be here before we know it. Pat O’Rourke will be hosting, and it promises to be another fun time with the theme Mystery, Murder and Mayhem! Will we have a #murdermysterydinner? I hope so! And I hope you are inspired to join us. It may seem like an expensive, time consuming endeavor, but for so many of us it’s a life changing experience, resulting in new friends, new opportunities and more happiness. And what could be better than that?

Click here for a printable flyer and sign-up form.