Interview with Jamaican doll maker, Peni Dyer

Jamaican doll maker, Peni Dyer, is a prize winning artist whose creativity and dedication to detail has earned her many prizes and recognition. She is one of the few figurative artists making porcelain portrait dolls of children from photographs and takes pride in not only capturing the likeness, but the character of her subjects. She took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with us. 

Q: Where in Jamaica are you from?
My family (the Cousins family) comes from Oracabessa in St. Mary.

Q: I know Canada is your home. How often do you visit Jamaica?
I have lived in Canada for a great number of years and no, I do not get back to Jamaica very often, but I was there just before Christmas 2009.

Q: How did you get started making custom dolls? Did you go to school to learn doll making?
I took a three year course and earned a diploma in Commercial art when I first came to Toronto. I did a sculpting course  for one semester during the three years and although I enjoyed it I never pursued it, I was more inclined to do illustrating and design

Q: Did you grow up saying you wanted to be a doll maker?
I sort of fell into making dolls; a very good friend of mine was an ardent collector of all kinds of art, dolls included.

One Christmas I made her a miniature mom and dad doll for her very exotic doll house and she hounded me after that to make her little fairies, and gnomes and elves etc.… thing led to another and I decided to try making a play doll.

My brother is a talented sculptor (he lives in New Kingston and teaches salsa dancing at the Jamaica Hylton Hotel) He gave me some pointers on how to sculpt a head and I decided to give it a shot. I found that I needed some type of model. A photo of my sister as a baby worked very well and when the head was completed I was surprised to see how close the likeness was. That started a series of dolls from photographs and a new career in portrait doll making of children. I did have to take courses to learn  how to work with porcelain and the technique of china painting but no, I did not go to school to learn ‘doll making’

As I grownup and I got past wanting to be an air hostess, a veterinarian, a nurse, a teacher,  I thought I wanted to be an artist but I thought I would like to do fine art, painting etc. then I discovered sculpting and loved it best of all.

Q: How long does it take to make the typical doll?
When I work in porcelain it takes me about three months to complete a portrait doll. There is the initial sculpting which is done in wet clay followed by a lot of sanding and buffing and firing and a great deal of detailing. I also like to live with the sculpt for a while to make sure I’ve captured the likeness and I really like the piece.

Q: What is the doll you are  most proudest of making?
When I make art dolls, it takes less time, mainly because the medium is less complicated, paper clays and polymer clays don’t require molds and kiln firing.

Q: How many Miss Lou dolls have you made? Have you made other dolls of famous Jamaicans?
I’ve only made one Miss Lou doll, my intention was to make her a limited edition of maybe 500 world wide..   I would like to do lots of famous Jamaicans (Rex Nettleford,  Bob Marley, and maybe Houssein Bolt,) who knows.

Q: What is the weirdest doll request you have gotten?
I think the most unusual  doll request I’ve ever gotten would be to do a pet dog. The dog had expired and his owner loved him so dearly she thought having a likeness of him would help to ease her grief.

Q: What is the one thing people would surprised to know about making a doll?
I guess the one thing people would be surprised to know about making a doll is the length of time it takes to  complete, especially if it is a character or a portrait doll.. 

Peni thanks for the interview and all the best.

To see more of Peni Dyer’s dolls please visit her website.