TIMOTHY EVANS, at 49, has not outgrown dolls. It seems unlikely he ever will. During the day, he is a successful illustrator and graphic artist. At night, when he's met his deadlines, he can often be found sitting at his dining room table in his doll-sized Foggy Bottom house. He likes to think of himself as a latter-day Geppetto. His ancient, almost doll-sized Singer sewing machine whirs, turning out the sad, stuck-up and mysterious ladies he calls Miss Havisham.
Miss Havisham and many of his other cloth creations -- men, women, girls and boys, babies and angels --stand around his sewing machine in characteristic poses midwifing the birth of the new "little people," as he likes to call them.
Miss Havisham is the marvel of all his works. She has a face pinched and puffed in the technique called trapunto. The expression is a mixture of disdain and delirium. Her skin of unbleached muslin is that of an old lady who has long pulled her curtains against the noonday sun. Her clothes are bits and pieces of lace and embroidery, leftovers of an elegance long past.
The whole effect is dramatic. Miss Havisham and her personality were, of course, suggested by Charles Dickens' character who, though deserted on her wedding day, always wore her wedding dress and kept the decayed leftovers of her wedding feast. Evans thinks the latest version of Miss Havisham has an expression resulting from tasting the dry crumbs of her wedding cake.
Evans is one of nine artists-craftsworkers whose serious (and expensive) dolls and dollhouses are on exhibit through Thursday in the sales gallery of the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery (18th Street at Pennsylvania Avenue NW). The dolls are not for children, and indeed, not for every adult. They are more soft sculpture than hard toy.
These dolls are serious manifestations of that slim line between craft and art, and the latest revival of an eons-old form that sometimes has owed as much to magic as to art. Dolls have often been more adult obsession than child's play.
In ancient Egypt's death pyramids, dolls in elaborate dollhouses accompanied the corpse to bake his bread and brew his beer. In 18th-century France, fancily dressed dolls were silent saleswomen all over the world for French couturiers. Character dolls in the '40s and '50s were made in the images of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Princess Elizabeth and Shirley Temple. Primitive people make dolls of scraps or rags, cornhusks, handkerchiefs and their enemies' hair and nail parings.
Today, we have more black dolls, "anatomically correct" dolls and contemporary versions of fashion dolls like Barbie and Ken. Doll collectors are among the most devoted of the new acquisitors. Doll auctions, doll clubs and doll newspapers and books are sold all over the country. At a recent doll auction, an antique doll went for more than $6,000. And the Dollogy Club of Washington has some 130 members.
Most dolls, no matter how slick and mass produced, are surrogates for humans and animals. This gives them an uncanny ability to tangle the strings of sympathy. More than one person still has tucked away in some obscure corner a tired and tattered baby doll or a teddy bear who still possesses a poignant power.
Evans, as long as he can remember, has made toys. "When I was only 5 or so years old, my granddad took me to the Cleveland Exposition to see the Tony Sarg Toy Theater.With much persuasion I acquired Raggedy Ann and Andy, and Beloved Belindy, the first of my little people."
He made marionettes -- considered more respectable for boys than dolls --through his childhood. And today, he believes he came to his career in design through his interest in toys. For the Kiplinger magazine Changing Times, he used lace dipped in drawing ink for a design and a clipper ship made of folded dollar bills, which upset the Treasury Department for a time.
"When my grandmother (Florence Ewing) came to live with me, several years ago, she was never without fancy work. 'She was in her late 80s --she lived to be 93. But she would sit for hours, the television on, the sound turned off, listening to a transistor radio, reading a book and doing handwork -- all simultaneously. I took a taste for fancy work from her. I've always loved elaborate textures, and the dolls are a way of using bits of wonderful fabrics."
His house is crammed full of his "little people." They peer at big people from the mantle piece, from the tops of picture frames, from the stairs, from the coffee tables, from the chairs, sofas and bookcases. Some are Evans' own. But many more are old ones he has collected, ranging from tiny bisque figures to large and fancily dressed girl dolls. All the dolls have a comfortable air to them, as though they are well loved and happy in their home. Even the cat has a knit doll made by Evans.
Evans admits that he doesn't think all grown men are as comfortable as he is in the company of dolls. But his accountant came to work on his books one day, and all a sudden Evans heard him address the new doll as "Suzy." "Now he seems to like to have her around when he comes over." Evans says.
Evans begins his characters with sketches -- elaborate ones that could stand alone as art works. Next he makes muslin patterns, basted and stuffed. The final doll has her face worked first, by hand and machine --trapunto work. The hair is made from yarn and string, the doll assembled and stuffed. The clothing is made from bits and pieces of old fabrics. Evans hates to cut these fabrics and tries as much as possible to make the dress without altering them.
He's only been making the dolls for about five years. "I suppose I've sold a couple of hundred or so. And given many more than that to friends."
His dolls sell for $45 for the simplest and smallest to about $125 for a Miss Havisham -- more than most would pay for a child's toy, but considerably less than the prices that some dolls go for today. He currently doesn't sell through stores, and he really isn't that enthusiastic about selling them at all. He's turned down offers to mass-produce his designs. "They should always be one of a kind." He said, in another context, that people have to "search under the cabbage leaves for Welsh trolls like me."
The other dolls in the Renwick show are quite different from Evans's and from each other. The excellent labels go a long way toward explaining both the philosophy of the dollmakers and their techniques. Eileen Ritter designed the splendid and ingenious Plexiglas and wood cases.
Among the most powerful of the dolls are those made by Esther Luttikhuizen, a painter and craftsman from Princeton, N.J. Luttikhuizen says her work has gone "through many shapes, sizes and degrees of sophistication . . . to capture from a pile of fabric and a box of paint all the strengths and magic a doll can hold."
Her rag dolls have painted faces. One pair is a set of twins, suggested by photographer Diane Arbus' twins photo. A marvelous one is a Japanese bird carrying away a straight-faced, imperturbable woman. Another is a box suggesting a coffin, inside is a beautiful baby doll, entwined with fabric flowers and fruit. Evans points out that Victorians found the death of innocents beautiful, and more than one person collected photographs of such heart-rending events.
The dolls of Karen Pieper of Dennis, Mass., begin with the porcelain masks she makes from a mold. She embellishes the masks with china paint, human hair and glass eyes. The body is made of a fiber-wrapped armature. Sometimes she makes the doll's jewelry of silver. She says of her creations, "art is a lifetime obsession" to try to express yourself through your work. Her dolls are far more explicit. One is a beautiful Renaissance doll, shamelessly pulling her bodice aside to show her bosom. Another looks as though she might be a gypsy, with many wild and bright clothes.
Faith Ringold, a New York City painter and sculptor, uses her dolls as models for her sculptures. Her dolls are often black and made of painted dried gourds and African fabrics.
Holland Vose of New York City likes to think her tall and skinny dolls are inspired by Giacometti. She uses ancient fabrics, beads and feathers, often from museum costume collections. Her dolls are often used in store windows.
Ellen Turner of Horse Shoe, N.C., builds a wire understructure before covering it with knit fabric. Joyce Justus, of Middletown, Ky., covers balls of fiberfill with stockings to make the head. The eyes are embroidery floss; the hair, unspun yarn. The eerie clown shapes of velveteen, dyed and stenciled, are made by Lenore Davis of Newport, Ky. She bases her dolls on dance and circus people.
The dollhouses in the show are made by Cherry B. Jerry of Racine, Wis. She begins with cigar boxes and memories of Victorian architecture.
The Renwick shop manager, Dorrie Pagones, reports that many of the dolls have been sold -- but mostly the happy ones.
As for Evans, "I would like someday to make a voodoo doll. But first I need an enemy."