Alexander Girard – Wooden Dolls

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“Together with Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson, Alexander Girard was one of the leading figures of postwar American design. A key source of inspiration for his wide-ranging oeuvre, which focused primarily on textile design, was his passion for the folk art of South America, Asia and Eastern Europe.
The decorative Wooden Dolls, designed and made by Girard for his own home in Santa Fe, were likewise inspired by his extensive personal collection of folk art. Part decorative object, part toy, the Wooden Dolls are based on originals from the Girard estate in the holdings of the Vitra Design Museum.

Material: solid fir, hand painted.”

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“Wooden Doll No. 8”

Through a bit of research, I have found that this doll from the Ken Stradling collection (on the left) is actually part of a wider collection in itself, being number 8 out of total of 23 different figure dolls.

Having these other dolls to compare it to, completely changes how I read the drawings and images on the doll. Originally I had thought that the doll was a simplified figure with random coloured shapes on the sides of its body, whilst on the front, I thought it was a road leading to a large red building with some grass on top. With the context of these other dolls I now realise this ‘building’ is actually a pair of sleeves with hands poking out the top and the ‘road’ is actually legs.


When an artist has chosen to present the figure in such an abstracted way, it causes me to engage with it more, attempting to decode and work out where and what it’s body parts are. Girard’s doll have just the right balance of representation and abstraction that the pay off for working out the object is very satisfying. The angles of the dolls conceal visual information that could help us understand what is being presented to us and Girard uses this to his advantage so we really have to interrogate every side of the doll. My favourite being Doll No.7 (below) with its crude circular boobs and bum. I supose the whole process is quite like the pareidolia faces I took as part of my summer collection project.

Girard’s drawings also have a wonderfully playful, intuitivness to them but I’m unsure as to if the words inspire the dolls or if the title comes as a reflection of the finished design. Either way, the dolls are centredΒ around the domestic and to me represent playfulness, humour, human nature and an element of incidental. All of which I feel are strong elements of the Ken Stradling collection.

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Original Wooden Doll sketches by Alexander Girard


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Another key bit of information I’ve learned is that these dolls were in fact designed by Girard for his own home, inspired by, and made to become a part of his extensive collection of folk art. However, these dolls have now become produced on a much wider and less intimate scale and I’m not exactly sure how I feel about that. Of course they are wonderful objects to own and I would love to have one displayed in my home but I think I prefer them as individuals especially if they are based on folk art; but I’m aware that having to constantly produce new designs can become very exhausting and that these are just a designers interpretation of folk art, so why shouldn’t they be reproduced? Does it really take anything away from the object? In this case I would say no, they are still each handmade with a high level of skill and craftsmanship that goes into their production. This is something that I find myself questioning in my own practice, by slip casting my hand built work am I contradicting the personality or uniqueness of the object?I think I would have say yes not too long ago but now I am leaning more to the other side. Most of the personality in my work comes through in the surface decoration which, like Girards dolls, will be hand painted thus making them always have slight variations even if I attempted to produce replicas.

Below is a lovely short video showing the dolls’ painting and packaging.

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