BY LENNIE BENNETT
Times Art Critic
Dolls are probably the oldest toys in the world and also have a long history as ritualistic objects. Beginning in the 20th century, they became fine craft collectibles.
"All Doll'd Up!" at Florida Craftsmen Gallery has dolls that can be put into all three categories. None has been created as a toy but there is plenty of whimsy to suggest playfulness. There is in some a Tim Burton sensibility that suggests the dark side of imagination.
Calan Ree's mixed media characters, for example, have the pale faces and big, soulful eyes of Burton's Corpse Bride animated movie. Trent Manning's dolls, situated in small environments made from found objects, also have a cinema-animation aesthetic with spindly, elongated limbs and exaggerated heads.
Many of the artists give their dolls names to add to the sense of individual personality. Chomick + Meder infuse their works with a wry irony. Marguarite Oiseau has the head of a well-dressed matron and the body and legs of a beautiful partridge in fine feather. (Oiseau is French for bird.) And the most hilarious dolls in the show are their Baby Calvin and Baby Chloe, who slightly resemble Moe and Curley of the Three Stooges.
The most extravagant and eccentric doll examples come from Joan Allen. Her wild-maned, broad-featured women in crazy-quilt finery come both with names and story lines on cards attached to their wrists. Salina "Lives in a dark house in the woods. Only seen at night. Collects dragonfly wings, small stones, smooth sticks. Hums, never speaks." Yvonne is "strict, loves control, color, Scotch, short skirts. A keeper of gossip, known for giving advice. Don't take it."
Brenna Busse and Chris Bivins' dolls have talismanic qualities. Bivins' are more abstracted and ceremonial. Busse's serve a spiritual purpose such as the Healing Story series titled Healing Heart, Letting Go and Open to Change.
It's a fun show and the stage is set before you step through Florida Craftsmen's door, which has a sign advising you to "Back up 10 steps and look up." When you do, you'll see two giant pairs of legs created by sculptor Sandy Eppling dangling over the balcony, reminiscent of the Wicked Witch of the West's fateful encounter with Dorothy's house. This show, too, is a long way from Kansas.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com (727) 893-8293.