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Sweet & Simple
Part II: Who is Susan Wakeen?

The simple and sweet faces of this year belong to dolls such as Tender Love and Care, a 20-inch blond, blue-eyed nurse and her teddy bear (wearing a head bandage) who is a DOTY nominee; Tender Lea, a brunette 20-inch bundle of pink, lace, and bows; Scarlett, decked out in an elaborate green gown (with, of course, a bonnet), and which won this year's IDEX Award winner and is Dolls magazine Award of Excellence nominee and a DOTY nominee; and the new 12-inch tall open edition Petite Wakeen babies, another 1996 DOTY nominee. Of special note are Sweet Susie and Sister Sandy, 16-inch tall vinyl twins, inspired by Susan and her identical twin sister. The striking paper doll box covers for the twins were illustrated by Sandra Wakeen.

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More of this Feature
• The Art of Susan Wakeen
• At home and at work
• Happiness in dolls

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Everyone in the Wakeen family was-is-artistic. Wakeen's father Ken is a talented painter, her mother Joanne is an interior decorator, and all the children exhibited skills in sundry artistic endeavors.

Growing up in Framingham, Massachusetts (and later in Avon, Connecticut), Wakeen was a Barbie fan of the first order. Even today, a room on the second floor of the house, is, for the most part, for her Barbies. Wakeen says she really doesn't know how many she has. Many are packed in boxes, she points out, offering a weak defense. And she says she hasn't bought one in a long time. Except for the Gone With the Wind set, of course.

"When we were small-my sister and I-we really played with our Barbies creatively. We made up stories and scenarios, and acted out detailed little plays," says Wakeen and, smiling only slightly self-consciously, adds, "I always wanted to marry Ken."

"I refused to change my name, even for Susan," puts in Wallace.

After college, earning degrees in math and psychology, Wakeen moved to Boston. There, while teaching emotionally handicapped children, she began to take various art classes, determined not to lose the love of art instilled in her by her parents.

During college, Wakeen had put art, or at least formal art training, on hold. She and her twin sister had been young artists, charged with promise. The nearly prohibitive cost of art school, however, restricted attendance to only one girl. Sandra went off to art school; Susan elected another course of studies.

Looking back on it now, the destinies of the twins seemed truly entwined. (This is a intriguing story," Wallace offers about the twins. "Neither of the girls wore glasses throughout their youth, then they had to get glasses at nearly the same time and, miles apart, without consulting, they both picked out the exact manufacturer, color, style, and model of frames.") One day in 1981, while visiting her sister, Wakeen crossed paths with a woman who made porcelain reproduction dolls. That meeting led to classes and, during the following year, the first fitful steps of Wakeen's business.

Stories of the early years of Wakeen's doll-making ventures have been recounted in numerous articles-making the rounds of local stores with her first original doll, Angie, and reproductions piled into a brown paper bag; her first notable success at a small New York show; selling more than 100 of her early ballerina dolls at Toy Fair in 1985, working as a designer for Hasbro in Rhode Island.

Next page > Susan at work and home > Page1, 2, 3, 4

This article was written by Scott Wood and originally published in Doll Reader magazine in September, 1996.

For more great articles be sure to pick up your copy of Doll Reader.

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Denise Van Patten--your Guide to Dolls
Article, Graphics Copyright © 2001 Denise Van Patten

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