1. Archive

Building a dynasty of dolls

Published Oct. 4, 2005

(ran S, E editions)

Sue J. Mahurin wakes up with Melanie Wilkes and Scarlett O'Hara at her bedside.

Five-and-a-half-inch porcelain replicas of the Gone With the Wind characters, that is.

Bits of porcelain, lace, ribbons and materials become exquisite dolls in the hands of this Clearwater artist.

All the dolls are the same height, but their similarities end there. Hundreds of touches _ a tiny gold cross necklace here, blond curls peeking from under a hat there _ give each doll its character.

Holding up a doll in a sophisticated purple Victorian dress with French lace and a large black feather hat, Mahurin said, "She has a much older look."

All this detail takes time.

"I've made at least 500 dolls in the past 10 years," she said. "It takes 12 to 14 hours to make one doll, and if I don't like it, I'll do it all over again."

Some of Mahurin's "Little Lovable Dolls by SueAnn," have been sold through Disney stores in shopping malls and at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center. She also has sold dolls through magazine advertisements. Mahurin wouldn't say what she charges for her dolls, but did say that one sold for $500. "They cost a lot," she said.

In her roomy Countryside home, Mahurin has established a miniature factory. A desk in her bedroom is the workshop where she designs dolls, cuts out clothing patterns and assembles her creations. The sewing machine is in the kitchen, and the kiln, used for firing the porcelain faces, arms and legs, is in the garage.

Boxes of fabric, lace, beads and ribbons surround her finished dolls, neatly arranged on a shelf in her bedroom.

The Florida room is home to three fully furnished doll houses Mahurin works on as a hobby.

Mahurin demonstrated the intricacy of her work, putting the finishing touches on a blond doll in a lavender dress with lacy petticoats and pantaloons.

So tiny were the gold beads for the gown's bodice _ literally the size of poppy seeds _ she had to use a small pin to pick up a tiny spot of glue. She then applied the glue to the dress, and then picked up a bead with the pin and placed it on the glue dot.

Another almost-finished doll in a light green dress stood behind the blond doll, destined to become a birthday gift for Mahurin's granddaughter Michelle, 13.

Mahurin makes each dress pattern herself, and sews each gown completely by hand. She even dries flowers herself to decorate dresses and hairdoes.

She sometimes makes custom dolls, particularly for brides.

Mahurin, who moved to Clearwater from Chicago in 1987, used to be a dressmaker. She's also worked in restaurants and in real estate. She devotes her time now to dollmaking.

"I'm very hyper, I have to be making things all the time," she said.

When she was a child, she said an aunt inspired her to go into dressmaking by giving her scraps of material to play with. Now in her 50s, Mahurin said she was happy to have grown up without much television. "We actually got to do things."

In addition to the dolls, she creates quilts for her family, draws pictures, and even has written songs. "If you have a creative mind, you can do anything," said Mahurin, "you're almost born with the damn talent."

Perfecting the art of making dolls took work, she said, showing a doll in a creamy, tight-fitting dress. The doll's hair looked homemade, compared with the satiny locks of her more recent creations.

"I keep my first doll to keep myself humble," said Mahurin. "It's so ugly."

_ To reach Sue Mahurin, please call 785-2833.