Sunday, January 9, 2011

On Sasha Morgenthaler Course Dolls

Happy New Year!
I am the newest doll in MamaT's Sasha family. MamaT has tried out a few different names on me, but the only one that seems to be sticking is Talia Jaelle, just because. I am not technically a Sasha doll. I am a homemade doll from Switzerland. Doll making was a very popular hobby in Switzerland for some years. Most likely I was made from a Glorex doll kit or something similar. These kits are still available (click Glorex for more info). I am 14 inches (35cm) tall (positive proof I am not a "course doll" which we'll discuss below). I have a firm (probably plastic) head covered with tricot cloth, real human hair, and a soft, stuffed body. While I am not a "real" Sasha doll, there is no doubt in our minds that I was made by a collector of Sasha dolls and I was Sasha inspired. My unmatched eyebrows and eyes are very similar in style to those painted by Sasha Morgenthaler, and while we don't know who the artist was who painted my face, we agree she was very talented.

Besides my face, the second reason we believe I originally belonged to a Sasha collector is based on my dress. It is a handmade dress, but it emulates the gingham yoke dress that was a classic Sasha dress made during all the years of the English production, and also found on some Gotz and studio dolls.

Further evidence is that while the dress actually doesn't fit me all that well (wide in the collar and a little too short), it fits a Sasha baby doll perfectly, and we believe that's what it was first made for.

Now enough about me, you probably didn't pull up this entry to learn about Glorex dolls. Because I resemble a Sasha course doll in some ways, I have been tasked with telling you all we know about Sasha course dolls. And in truth, almost all we know about course dolls, we learned from Dorisanne Osborne. Dorisanne was kind enough to give MamaT permission to let us quote most of a post she made on the Sasha-L list on 2/7/08, adding in a few bits from other posts of hers.

“I don't know when Sasha Morgenthaler began her doll making classes, but I think they were held for 25 years or more with Sasha teaching them before her death in 1975, and then her assistant Trudi Loeffler, continued teaching them until 1993.

The classes were held in Sasha's workshop in the basement of her home. There was room for 5 or 6 women to take a course which was usually held one day a week, for about 5 weeks. This limited the classes to women who lived in Zurich and the towns around Zurich. They would work on their dolls at home during the week in between classes.

I was a member of the last class that Frau Loeffler taught in December of 1993, which was put on for a group of 6 American women. We were in Zurich the end of November of 1993 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Sasha's birth so our doll making class was a very special time. Our classes were held all day long for a week, since we were only in Switzerland for two weeks. It was intensive to complete the two dolls in that time period.

The course dolls had Type A (non-jointed cloth) bodies and were about 20” (50cm) tall, varying both in girth and height because they were stuffed with excelsior (wood chips) by many different people with variable experience levels. The hardest work day was when we stuffed the excelsior into the cloth body parts as it had to be packed very tightly. We were exhausted after our day of stuffing our two course dolls because they have to be packed very tight, but I've seen some that are not so firm.

Hemp was supplied for the hair, but you could pay extra to have a hand-knotted human hair wig made by Sasha's own wigmaker. I used the hemp hair for my boy and the wig for my girl, as both were applied differently and I wanted to experience both processes. For the hemp hair we dug out a hole in the middle of the head and pushed the "hair" into it, then arranged it, glued it down, and styled it. We started with dyed raw hemp and spent an afternoon brushing (and brushing and brushing) the hemp with a dog brush, to make it silky. With the human hair wig, we sewed it to the head.

We practiced the eye and face painting under Frau Loeffler's direction before we actually painted our dolls' faces. Frau Loffler taught us Sasha's method of painting eyes. We painted a round eye in the color of our choice and then were instructed to put the pupil right in themiddle of the iris. If you stop to think of the human eye, it is a ball, with the pupil "dead center". The secret seems to be what you do after you have the pupil in the center of the eye. The lid is what changes the character of the eye, as it can come down and cover much of the eye, or be high for a wide-eyed look. And the addition of eyelashes can change the look too. The pupils on Sasha's studio dolls range from very large, to rather small. She tried to make individualized eyes. The "star pupils" on some of the early English dolls were made made by painting the pupil with a fine brush--I've heard that it was a brush with five "hairs,” but can't confirm so.

We dressed our dolls at home, though some people were able to find clothing and shoes to fit at the toy stores in Zurich. It was an amazing experience to make Sasha's dolls in her own studio. We expected her to walk in at any minute. Many women in the area took the class over and over, making two dolls each time. Some of them sold their dolls, and others still have them. Probably, hundreds of these dolls were made over the years.”
--Dorisanne Osborne

Thanks again to Dorisanne for her all of her wonderful information and first hand experience in a doll course. We have very little information other than what Dorisanne had to offer. We found no information on when Sasha Morgenthaler began giving workshops, how often or how many classes or how many dolls were made. She continued teaching them until she passed away in 1975.

Frau Trudi (Roos) Loffler, who began working with Sasha in the late 1940s, was considered her closest collaborator for the next 25+ years, continued teaching the workshops until 1993. Frau Loffler was also involved in preparing exhibits at the museum in Zurich and did a lot of hand sanding on the studio dolls, among other work, no doubt. According to Dorisanne's book, the course dolls had Type I faces (square shaped with medium full cheeks). We've seen a course dolls described with fleece hair, which was likely hemp fleece.

Here are some current links to photos of course dolls (for sale or already sold):
Previously sold doll on Ebay. (Scroll to bottom of the page). This page also has information on how to contact Dorisanne to get a copy of the book, “Sasha Dolls Through the Years” which we HIGHLY recommend.
--And as Tigger would say, Ta-ta for now! Talia Jaelle