Pauline Straker was born in Kingston, Jamaica and became interested in making dolls at an early age. She began her craft by making dolls with hair made of wool.
Pauline attended Ellen Beddington doll making classes and Sonia Turner doll making seminars. Whilst fine tuning her skills, Pauline realised that a doll clothes, hairstyle and other characteristics could be used to depict a person’s cultural heritage. This is evident in the design of many European dolls, while African and African Caribbean Dolls have been mere caricatures. With this in mind Pauline began designing and making her own wigs and costumes. She was asked to host a number of seminars both here and abroad to teach those skills.
In 1997, Pauline came to international attention when she was invited by the Global Doll Society (GDS) to become one of its Speciality teachers. This made her the only GDS recognised teacher in the world of African wigs and costumes. At the 1998 GDS convention, Pauline along with her daughter Liz aged 10, won prizes for their dolls and costumes. Liz competed against professional dollmaker’s and won 3rd prize.
It is Pauline vision to teach her skills to other interested people.
Have you managed to train people in Jamaica or any other country on your art of making Dolls and craftwork?
I have conducted successful seminars in Germany and the Uk. My vision is to eventually support the professional growth of the doll craft market but I need sponsorship to begin that. I have also been approached to conduct seminars abroad in Senegal.
I have been making handmade cards in aid of the St John’s Church heating appeal.
What awards/recognition have you received since the last edition of the Black Scientist book 2?
I have received the Dollcrafter Exellence Award at the ARAL Doll Festival, silver in a Fantasy section at the GDS. I also won the Butternut Challenge at the Dollmakers Circle in 2008.This doll was also featured in Workbox magazine in an article on the Dollmakers Circle August 2013. I have been one of the people featured in Westminster City Council, Black History in Westminster booklet 2009 and 2010.
What message do you have for young people?
I have two main messages. First be confident but courteous. Courtesy is about being considerate towards others. Nowadays it seems to have gone out of fashion. Young people seem to think that being confident means being brash and stepping over others . I’ve found that being courteous has really helped me to succeed at work and in my personal relationships.
Second , with hard work you can succeed no matter what your circumstances. Hard work is something to be proud of. Never be ashamed of the honest hard work of your parents – no matter what their job. My mother worked as a domestic worker in people’s home.I was so proud of her. She could not afford to pay for my exams in Jamaica but this did not prevent my reaching my goal. I had wanted to be a nurse but I had to wait until I started work to attend evening classes and get my qualifications to begin nurse training at Guys hospital .As a student nurse I won the Miss New Cross Hospital contest. I got there through sheer hard work.
What other character dolls have you created?
I have costumed Astrid who won the Dollcrafter excellence award and have sculpted Elizabeth and sunshine.
I have also made a variety of cloth dolls using my own sculpt I then make a mask for the face which is covered in cloth and then painted. I have designed a spinning top doll which is patented, and I am in the process of designing another project .In addition I have been asked to sculpt a horse’s head for A Midsummer Night’s dream for the doll club I attend.
A well known doll company has approached me regarding making their cloth dolls.
What are the important messages that you want children to have when buying and playing with your dolls.
I want my dolls to reflect a positive image of children’s culture. That’s why I’m so careful with the design of the clothes and features of the dolls. I also want them to think positively of femininity so that they are proud of being girls and see themselves as someone to be cherished just as they value their doll.
My porcelain dolls, of course, are collector items and are not suitable for children to play with. On display in the home or elsewhere they are a very powerful positive image for adults – male and female.
What are the challenges you have encountered?
My professional challenge remains the difficulty of obtaining sponsorship to pass on my skills to people. As you know my love of art and craft goes back to my childhood in Jamaica and the encouragement of my wonderful mother and neighbour who were such an inspiration to me. I would love to just share what I have learnt and help to boost employment by producing these dolls more widely.
Personally – I worked full time as well as caring for my mother who had a stroke. She required 24 hour care and two people to support her. I was adamant that I wanted her to stay with me and not live in a home. It was tough but I won the fight for her to remain at home until she passed away in 2007
I am divorced and is a lot happier.
What has made you strong and continue to be strong?
A belief in God, self confidence in my ability and I use every setback as a learning experience.
Why do you think that dolls are important?
Dolls reflect a persons cultural heritage and give a sense of identity and pride.
It is really important that dolls are not caricatures of people but reflect the beauty of a culture and all its diversity. I use my dolls to contribute to portraying a positive image of people’s culture.
How do you see your dolls developing in the future?
I would like to develop affordable cloth and papier mache dolls as well as collector dolls. This would enable more people to enjoy the dolls.
Where do you get your inspiration from to create?
I am inspired by nature, the people I see and the things I see around me. For example a piece of fabric could form the inspiration for a new design.
What materials do you use?
I use a variety of materials, porcelain, paper, clay, cotton, silk. I try to source unusual fabrics in addition to machine embroidered fabric. Sometimes I even paint my own fabric.
How long does it take to make up a doll for example Grandma Flossie?
Grandma Flossie is one of my favourite modern doll mold by Donna Rubert. She is indeed a very special doll and everyone loves her.
Office poet and colleague Althea Davis said this about her. “She is a survivor born in Jamaica in 1910. She has gone through a world war, seen her country come to independence, brought up her family alone, first as a maid to a rich woman, then by scrimping and saving to buy a small shop where she serves behind the counter every day. Her children love her but are wary of crossing her . If she hears of any falling off from the moral standards by which she brought them up , she does’nt hesitate to take them to task. She is much more relaxed with her grandchildren and is totally besotted by her two year old twin great grandchildren. Granny loves the young and they love her.
Granny loves to dress up , maybe because when she was young she had only two dresses, one for weekdays and one for Sunday and best, and her hat collection is known through out the island.”
It took me approximately six weeks to make up Grandma Flossie
It takes several weeks or even months to complete a doll. It depends if you are creating embroidery or beading. Or the style may have lots of handwork.
What have people said about your dolls?
I have been told that my dolls look very real, are exclusive and unusual. People really appreciate the fact that they are all individually handmade and the time devoted to them is really worth it when people admire them. People are always wanting to buy the dolls!
Do you sell your dolls in the high street shops. Where can people buy your dolls?
My dolls can only be purchased directly from me. There’s a price range to suit everyone. Most of my dolls are collector dolls and are in private collections. Sometimes I have donated my dolls to charity to raise funds for those in need.
Do you sell your dolls internationally?
Not at present but this is something I would like to explore in the future. I am sure there is a market for them in many countries.