rag dolls and woollies

rag dolls and woollies

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Astrologer

I've never been a big believer in astrology but I had my horoscope done once by a real astrologer. Her name was Katharine Merlin--really, no kidding--I knew her sister. I was in grad school at the time, studying research psychology, and she looked at her strange paper with all the weird symbols and then at me in a puzzled way. "I don't understand what you're doing," she said. "You're not a research psychologist. You're either a sculptor or a psychotherapist."

This was, of course, wrong.

Yes, I'd enjoyed sculpture classes at the Art Institute of Chicago (in the kids' division) but I was no artist. And I had already researched psychotherapy and knew it to be unscientific. It was not something I'd ever do. She pressed it for awhile, then gave up.

Three years later, I was on my first job in a community mental health center in the Colorado Rockies. I had blown off my Ph.D in research psychology, left with an M.A. and had been voted the happiest grad student in the department (because I was leaving). I worked in rural areas, including Wasilla, Alaska (!) and finally left it all to become a homeschool mom and run a kosher grocery store in the garage.

Off and on I tried sculpture, but nothing ever came of it. I can't do clay on my own. I need the atmosphere of a real sculpture class with lots of space, big tables, cement floors, garbage cans full of clay and a Chicago radio station playing in the background. Otherwise I just can't do it. So I figured, okay, she was right about the therapy but wrong about the sculpture.

Then my daughter had a baby, my thumb hurt too much to spin and knit, so I made a rag doll for my granddaughter. Yeah, people call that "soft sculpture," but that is way too hoity-toity a term for what I was turning out. So far I've made fourteen or fifteen of them and sold quite a few -- but they are soft toys, not soft sculptures.

Then last week I sat one of them up -- all by herself on the kitchen table. She wasn't leaning, propped or anything. She sat with her legs out in front of her, her hands on her knees and her head tilted, smiling at me.

I was stunned.

I walked around the table, studying her from the side, the back, the other side, the front again. She existed in the round (my early dolls had been pretty flat like a lot of rag dolls are). She had a presence. A point of view on life.

"Soft sculpture" is still too high-faloutin' for me. I can make a doll a kid can hug and sleep with. In a fit of pique it would probably survive getting smacked on the wall and stepped on. And really that is my goal -- to make dolls which can be used, socks people can wear, tallitot to wrap up in.

But she sat up by herself.  All by herself.  And it was an amazing moment.


  1. Hi Paula,
    THanks for friending me on Rav so I could find your website and blog. Love your knitting and especially your dolls! Great stuff! I also enjoy your writing, you are a real renaissance woman. I live in Oak Park, Michigan, lived in Israel in 1983-84 with my family, and hope to get back someday. I am a knitter now but previously did embroidery and weaving--any fiber craft is fair game for me. Good luck with selling your work!

    All the best,
    Carol Perecman