Each sale saddens her NORTH LAUREL/SAVAGE


April 16, 1993|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

The small white face with big brown eyes and blushing cheeks sits on Theda Hansen's work table. Soon Ms. Hansen will attach a body to the face, dress it in handmade clothes and add it to her collection of one-of-a-kind dolls she sells from her studio at the Savage Mill.

Her doll gallery includes Dip the Pirate, Francie the Flower Girl, Mother Earth, fairies and court jesters.

Ms. Hansen has a loyal following of customers who pay between $100 and $1,200 for her creations, each of which requires about 80 hours of handiwork.

"They're so unique and charming; they've become a very important part of our household," said Charlotte Tarses of Pikesville, who bought one of Ms. Hansen's court jester dolls.

Ms. Hansen began making her dolls 12 years ago in a studio at her home in Texas. For the past four years she's worked out of the Savage Mill space she shares with R. Foster Holcombe, who runs the Art of Fire, a traditional glass-blowing studio.

When she's not working on her dolls, Ms. Hansen helps Mr. Holcombe in his glass-blowing work, making pitchers, bowls and glasses. She also makes pins, featuring tiny doll faces on fused glass, left over from Mr. Holcombe's work.

Ms. Hansen says the inspirations for her dolls can come from anywhere. For example, a multicolored silk scarf gave her the idea to make an artist doll who will have a brush and pallette. The artist's smock will be made from the colored scarf.

"They just kind of make themselves," Ms. Hansen said of her dolls. "I start making the face and they turn into a personality while I'm working on them."

The doll Francie, comes with a note attached to tell the buyer a little bit about her.

"Francie is a bit tall for her age and rather shy. But she is very proud of the beautiful flowers she grows in her garden."

Ms. Hansen worked between 80 and 100 hours on Dip, her most expensive doll at the moment. The note accompanying Dip, explains that he is modeled after a friend of Ms. Hansen's who plays a pirate character at Renaissance festivals.

Ms. Hansen sculpts a doll's face, hands and feet from cernit, a plastic-type German clay. Then she paints the face and makes the doll's clothes from an extensive collection of fabric she keeps in her studio.

It's painstaking work. Sculpting a face takes about eight hours and the painting involves another eight hours. Making costumes for the dolls can take a couple of days.

Sometimes Ms. Hansen's dolls also feature the products of Mr. Holcombe's glass-blowing skills. Some of Ms. Hansen's dolls are sold in the craft shop Discoveries, which has stores in Columbia and Ellicott City.

However, the amount of work required to make the dolls limits her production capabilities.

Recently a customer bought every doll in her shop, wiping out her entire stock.

In some ways, selling the dolls is as difficult as making them.

"They're like family," Ms. Hansen said.

"Each one is my favorite while I'm working on it, and when they go I miss them."

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