Tales from the Archive: The Mistress of Painted Dolls

This story was published on May 5 in the Chichester Observer. Read the original story at chichester.co.uk/news/local/mistress-of-painted-dolls-revisited-1-7365136]

[All images: West Sussex Record Office archives]


Ann Parker, one of the world’s leading doll artists, spent several months in 1980 gathering together other talented, professional artists to form the British Doll Artists’ Association.

Ann, born in Dublin in 1927, the daughter of an Anglo-Irish naval officer and Welsh mother, first became interested in doll making during the war when she was 15 years old. She was asked by the local Red Cross shop to make something for them to sell and help raise money.

To their delight she produced elaborately dressed dolls which she had made from wire, with carved cork painted heads.

They were an immediate success 
and sold rapidly.

It soon became obvious that Anne had an artistic talent when, in the years that followed, she became a fashion artist, comic illustrator, and portrait painter.

However, it was not until 1973 that she produced her first costume portrait doll.

This stemmed from a remark made by her husband. He mentioned that one of his patients, a toy agent, thought it would be a good idea to produce a Sussex costume doll to sell at airports.

That moment was memorable for Ann.

She said: “I felt as though a large brick had hit me between the eyes. I knew I was about to embark on something successful and I felt my whole life had been geared to this moment of realization.”

The following months she spent in trying her hand at sculpture, modelling in plasticine, using plaster of Paris, and endeavouring to take moulds. But it was not until her husband and daughter went on a skiing holiday, and she had the kitchen to herself for a fortnight, that she could really get down to her doll-making.

She said: “That was the most exciting fortnight of my life. I have been given £20 for accommodating a locum to stand in for my husband during his holiday. With it, I dashed off to Southampton to buy glass fibre resin and rubber moulding material.

“It cost a quarter of today’s prices, otherwise I could never have afforded to experiment in the way I did. By the last evening I was dancing around the kitchen shouting ‘Eureka’ – I knew then, for certain, I could do it.’

By June, her dolls were causing a lot of interest. Initially, Ann was working alone for 100 hours a week, but shortly she had 12 helpers.

Her costume portrait dolls stepped straight out of the historical past, and their likeness to the character intended is uncanny!


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