Bringing global cultures to life through dolls

Two AnIMadeIt artists tell stories through their wooden figures and resin magnets and pins

Art

February 04, 2007|By Anne Tallent | Anne Tallent,Sun Reporter

The Aboriginal Man doll seems like a freeze-frame from a whirl of motion. But his didgeridoo, a musical instrument, and primitive dot pattern make him seem grounded in a place and time, as well.

Another figure representing the Ndebele tribe of South Africa uses little more than a piece of patterned fabric and sculpted wire about the neck and head to indicate the dramatic traditional style of the tribeswomen.

And an East Asian-style doll is striking in its silky fabric. But it also cleverly incorporates chopsticks as fashion accessories and uses stickpins in the doll's hair.

These are just a few of the creations of Linda Wright-Gray and Grayson M. "Skip" Williams Jr. of AnIMadeIt Studios.

AnIMadeIt is an outlet for creative passions, a means of introducing art into people's lives and a burgeoning business venture. But its wooden dolls and decorated resin face magnets and pins also express cultures from around the globe: African, Aboriginal, Caribbean, Native American and Asian.

In its dolls, pins and magnets, AnIMadeIt uses a number of media to bring its global citizens to life. Some faces are molded; others are unformed. Some hands are sculpted, some resin, some wire. The decorative elements -- fabric, wire, chopsticks, feathers, beads -- beg the viewer to touch the dolls.

"It's taking the art to a deeper meaning than just being visual," Williams says. "It's storytelling. It's history. We want to make artwork that tells a story. When [people] look at it, they see all the different influences."

Wright-Gray's travels to the Caribbean have inspired some of the team's designs, and she plans to visit Africa.

"The first place I went was Bermuda. While I was there, they had a celebration. There were these `gumbe' dancers -- they have these elaborately bright costumes they make, with lots of feathers and sequins. ... They have one dancer on stilts, and the rest were just dancing around. It was extremely mesmerizing," she says.

Travel has made a huge impression, apparent in AnIMadeIt's stilt dancer dolls and the use of feathers in accessories.

"Each place I go, I pick up little bits and pieces," Wright-Gray says. An employee of Catholic Relief Services, she is part of an agency that has helped respond to calamities such as the South Asian tsunami, the autumn 2005 earthquake in Pakistan and India, and the violence in Sudan. Her work helps her to understand how people in other cultures live, the issues different societies face and, best of all, the art they create.

She looks for inspiration from foreign films, world music and even fabric and other artifacts from a global culture.

"It makes me feel more like a citizen of the world," she says.

That kinship with all of humanity is an essential ingredient in AnIMadeIt.

"Everyone assumes that everything I do has to represent blackness. I am an African-American artist. My roots are African-American," she says. "But I also have Native American heritage. I'm going to do whatever I feel I want to do at the moment."

Wright-Gray is exuberant, and her presence is commanding. Williams is more low-key and unassuming. But they agree on a multicultural view of the world.

"I like American Indian and Southeast Asian culture," he says. The dragon-patterned ball cap he wears underscores that statement.

But it's more strongly underscored by the variety of their work: Every doll is different; each one requires inspiration to express culture.

The products of this partnership often involve building on each other's inspiration.

"We don't say, `No.' We bounce ideas off each other," says Williams. "We have fun. We get crazy sometimes. ... Sometimes I see a work and I get so excited and say, `Yeah!' ... It just builds into a crescendo of creativity."

Williams, 46, is originally from New York state. He attended college there before earning his bachelor's degree at Maryland Institute College of Art. He specializes in abstract art, with some figurative sculptural art. An artist who creates on his own and in other ventures, he works full time as a line cook for Towson Golf and Country Club.

A Maryland native, Wright-Gray, 44, graduated from Carver Vocational-Technical High School, where she studied commercial art. She attended what was then the Community College of Baltimore, Coppin State and MICA.

The pair met more than 10 years ago, as neighbors, and have become business partners and good friends. Now, they both enjoy the flexibility of their day jobs, but AnIMadeIt is their passion.

"Our goal is to break off the job," says Williams, and turn the project into a full-time venture.

In the meantime, they're having success at art shows such as Artscape, selling the dolls, which can range from $125 to $800, and pins and magnets, which cost $20 to $25. Wright-Gray and Williams each have studios in their homes; they're working on finding one studio they can both work out of and finding ways to tell the world about their work.

"Oprah," says Wright-Gray, "is going to have one of our dolls."

anne.tallent@baltsun.com

For more on AnIMadeIt, call Linda Wright-Gray at 410-435-9788 or go to animadeitstudios.com.

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