DailyDollNews' pick for July: NIADA - 60 years of artistic doll design
NIADA - 60 years dedicated to the art of puppetry
1963 - 2023
Rich traditions - new ideas
NIADA is a worldwide organisation of puppet artists, supporting patrons and friends, whose aim is to promote the art of original, handmade puppetry.
NIADA HISTORY 60 years of artistic doll design
The National Institute of American Puppet Artists was officially founded in May 1963 at the Watts Barre Resort near Ozone, Tennessee by Helen Bullard, who came together with her co-founders Gertrude Florian, Magge Head and Fawn Zeller. These artists, who worked mostly in isolation, met each other at the annual conventions of the United Federation of Doll Clubs (UFDC), a national organization of doll collectors, which they had attended since the early 1950s.
Fascinated by the work of the artists she met, Helen wrote their stories and published them in The Toy Trader, a small but widely read trade magazine edited by Elizabeth Andrews Fisher. The first monograph that Helen completed and published was on Dorothy Heiser. It was followed by others on Fawn Zeller, Ruth Ellery Thorpe, Avis Lee, Dewis Cochrane, Gwen Flather and Martha Thompson. Five of these artists came to the UFDC convention in Buffalo in 1962 and Helen rented an adjoining hall where their work was exhibited to great acclaim.
Ellery Thorpe, Martha Thompson, Hallie Blakely, Lewis Sorensen and Muriel Burer to join them as charter members. The aim of the group was to work together towards a common goal: the recognition of original handmade dolls as fine art. The first NIADA exhibition was held on 13 August 1963 at the UFDC conference in Los Angeles. The work of eleven charter members, as well as the newly elected Tamara Steinheil, was presented.
The original group of founding artists established bylaws, procedures and standards for the admission of new members. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s NIADA grew and became even more self-organised. Early artists who held presidency positions, such as Astri Campbell, Vi Paulson and Magge Head, registered the organisation, set up a Standards Committee and, as the group became too large to continue meeting at the UFDC annual conference, organised their own annual group meetings. Like contemporary NIADA artists, these pioneering puppeteers were also teachers, sharing their knowledge with other artists.
The works of the early NIADA artists reflect their era in terms of medium and subject matter. Historical figures, children and portraits were the predominant subject matter. Charter members Hallie Blakely, Muriel Bruyere, Gertrude Florian, Magge Head, Martha Thompson and Fawn Zeller worked in Bisque and Parian. Dorothy Heyzer, many of whose dolls are preserved at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is known as a fabric sculptor. Dewis Cochran began working with cork wood, then moved on to composition. Lewis Sorenson made his dolls from wax.
Some contemporary artists still work in traditional mediums and concepts. Others have chosen newer materials such as polymer clays, air-dried clays and paperclay. The subject matter ranges from traditional realistic figures to anthropomorphic creatures and a few abstract works that simply suggest the human form. What has not changed since NIADA's founding is that every element of a doll created by a NIADA artist is entirely made by the artist. Every NIADA doll is authenticated as a painting or sculpture.
Today, NIADA member dolls are widely represented in the print media, on the Internet, in value guides and at exhibitions around the world. NIADA thrives as an international organisation with members from France, England, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Russia, Ukraine, Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. NIADA's annual conference is always an exciting event, bringing together participating artists and patrons, as well as visiting artists and collectors. At the conference, NIADA artists share their expertise and skills through workshops, programme presentations, artist critique visits, the NIADA gallery, the annual exhibition and sale and much more.
NIADA members are pleased to see the work of artists of exceptional merit. The Standards Committee invites all emerging artists who meet the established criteria. The committee evaluates the basic elements of form, movement and anatomy, the construction of the figure, the handling of materials, technique and skill in finishing, and finally considers whether the artist's work expresses a strong personal aesthetic and vision through this art form. Each applicant should have something new and vital to contribute.
Helen Bullard's remarkable vision, NIADA, has evolved into a dynamic international organisation. Helen Bullard died in 1996, but her legacy continues to grow.