Interview with Art Doll Sculptor Kim Matheny

The following interview is serendipitously related to two topics of great interest to me personally: literature and art.

These wee little ones created by Kim Matheny -- a combination of elves, pixies, goblins, and other legendary creatures -- seem to me to have stepped straight out of a story book. How appropriate, since fantasy literature is one of the inspirations behind their creation.

I will start with letting Kim explain some of her background for herself: " I have always had a vivid imagination and created art in some form. My family remembers me doing so as child, drawing, painting, etc. I collected dolls when I was younger, it took me 38 years to create them. I love to read young adult paranormal fiction. I was the excited adult standing in line for hours to get the newest Harry Potter book then taking it home and devouring it."

It isn't just their interesting facial structure and expressions or imaginative style of dress in Kim Matheny's works that is so captivating. The descriptions she creates for each individual character, told in entertaining story form, provide each character's name and corresponding (impish) behaviors. The reader is drawn into this Fae world and into Kim's vision for what makes each character special, an essential member of Elftown.

Kim Matheny

Darbin the Goblin Time Thief

How did you get started in your craft? How did Homespun Dolls begin?

In May 2010 my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, because my father is disabled I was her primary care-taker. I found I needed something to de-stress and get my mind off of what I could not control.

Reading was not doing that, I could not concentrate. I started trying to crochet toys and found out pretty quick that I can't crochet. While searching for tips on how to crochet I found a video of a woman needle-felting a pumpkin. I decided to try it and made a very poor rabbit, then a very poor mole, then a really ugly pig.

That pig was turned into a old ugly troll woman. And that was it, goblins, trolls, elves all from wool but the fingers were not turning out like I wanted. So I started making them from clay, then decided in October 2010 if I could make fingers I might be able to make faces.

The first clay dolls I made were larger, over a foot high. I wanted to make Fae dolls like I seen them in my mind. Small enough to hide behind a book or in a cup. I wanted to look at them and think they weren't moving because I had looked at them. Like if I just turned my head they would go back to digging around in the cupboards or stealing buttons from the sewing basket to use as tires on their carts.

My mother enjoyed hearing the stories the I made up about the little ones, and seeing the newest come alive. She did not get to see the little dolls I do now, she passed away in November 2010. But I'm sure she would love them.

Many of your art dolls are pixies, goblins, or elves – legendary creatures. What was the appeal for you in choosing them as your subject matter?

Their magic, their mischief, their little pointy ears and ugly cute little faces. What's not to love about a goblin who steals buttons or a pixie who keeps the bugs off the lettuce by eating them? Escaping reality is very appealing, especially in a town where you can tell stories for your supper and a warm bed. Or where you can have fresh berries brought to your door for a bit of honey.

Beedle A Woodland Pixie

Raven the Little Elf Poet

I was thinking about the concept of elves. There is that often retold story of ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker.’ There is the Keebler Elf. Of course, the upcoming Christmas season brings images of Santa's elves to mind.

Berry the Woodland Christmas Elf

So often it seems we seem to think of elves primarily as little helpers with exceptional creative ability.

I was trying to research the defining qualities of elves, goblins, and pixies. In my efforts, I found that these three creatures have in common the possession of a mischievous nature. Your art dolls, through their facial expressions and through your descriptions, emphasize this impish side.

Piggen the Pine Berry Stealing Goblin

Your description: “I caught this little goblin in the Pine berry bush eating his way through this year's crop. After his capture I asked him what his name was since I was feeding him. He announced Piggen pronounced Pigeon, I have to disagree - surely it is pronounced Pig In. Because that is what he was doing in the middle of the berries -- Pigging In!”

Pickwin the Gobling Pick-Pocket

Your description: ” Look here who I met today, this dandy with all his ruffles and feathers -- doesn't he look fancy. But beware of all his dashing good looks! This little goblin is a well known for his pick-pocket skills. I believe that button on Pickwin's hat came from the cuff on my sleeve. Very sly little goblin indeed.”

It could be argued that impishness can also be a lovable quality. What do you think is the appeal of these mythical creatures?

They mean no harm, no hate, even getting into things they shouldn't, they do it for a very good reason. They make you believe there might really and truly be magic. That there just might be a real reason behind the fairy tales.

Do you have a favorite art doll you have created? What made it your favorite?

I have had a few favorites, my first of course was Jasper the Candle-Lighter

then Twig

[and] Darbin and just last week I created a little red-haired pixie girl named Olive.

She had me laughing out loud as she told me her story. I could picture her in my head running around getting ready for a Christmas ball. It is very hard to part with the ones who come alive so easy.

Your creations are dolls-as-art, which seems to imply they are meant to be displayed rather than held. I have a suspicion that even so, children tend to fall in love with them as deeply and as often as adults do. Do you get a lot of commentary from children about your dolls?

When children come over with their parents to see the dolls they always want to hear their stories. They usually pick a favorite and that's the story they like the best. I have two youngsters wanting to learn how to make the dolls and that tickles me. I hope to teach them how so they can also bring their imagination to life. Encourage the imagination in a child.

Old Troll Elf Woman

Some of your dolls are felted. Many are made of Polymer Clay. Do you have a preference as far as technique or end result?

I prefer clay, the wool has a nice texture but for those detailed faces clay is my favorite.

I read in your descriptions that when you use polymer clay for the faces, you do not use molds. Did it take a long time to get that process down to a science?

No molds, I want them to have their own personality and face. It felt like it took forever to get the faces like I wanted them. And I still look back at each one and think "Oh I should have done this or that". I haven't taken any classes but have found good advice and techniques given online in blogs and videos. I'm still learning but I'm getting there.

Are you ever surprised by the expressions that result?

Every time, unless it is a commission I have no idea what I will get. If I plan to do a certain doll looking a certain way you can bet it will change. They have a story that is told while I make them, it doesn't always go with what I intended it to.

What do you think makes your dolls radiate so much character?

I put their story into their face, I don't want them to look fake. I want them to look angry, happy, ornery, sweet whatever they are feeling during the story. I think a lot of their character comes from the little story I tell that goes with them.

Felix the Dancing Goblin
How do you decide how to dress each one? Is it challenging to find items of clothing that match your idea for a doll’s character?

When their story is being told while I sculpt them I am seeing them dressed running around. It is challenging to find the right material that will drape well on a 6 inch doll. I've been known to cut up perfectly good clothing to get that certain look.

How long does a project typically take for completion?

It can take anywhere from 24 hours to a week. If they are impatient to come alive they will not let me rest. I have started on several who woke me early and other than eating I didn't stop until they were completed. I will be exhausted but those dolls are the ones that I don't want to part with. They just feel more alive to me when they are bursting to become.


Your descriptions on Etsy are in engaging story form. Are there particular books that inspire your work?

Harry Potter of course, Holly Blacks books, Amanda Hockings Trylled trilogy, and many more of the young adult paranormal books.

Have you thought about writing a book based upon your creations?

I think someday when I feel Elftown has told me enough I will put a bit of their story into a book. For now they are still wanting to be made and not willing to let me take the time for that.

What do you like the most about creating your art dolls?

Being able to make what I imagine come alive for others to see.

Thank you, Kim! It was great fun to learn more about you and the Fae world of your creation. I hope there will be a story book (or two) about these cute little creatures one day with your name on it!

Kim creates her art doll sculptures in a studio in Northeast Arkansas. To learn more about her and see more of her work, stop by her blog, her Etsy Shop, or her Facebook page. A note from Kim: "I normally upload pictures of my newest little ones on my Facebook pages before they are listed in my Etsy store." Additionally, Kim can be found on Twitter @homespundolls.

All images in this interview are used by permission, are the property of Kim Matheny, and are copyright protected.

This interview can also be read with commentary on the blog: Handmadeology : The Science of Handmade.