ARTIST DESIGNS FOR DISCERNING DOLL COLLECTORS
Lake City, Michigan:
Gene Schooley’s mom thought little girls should learn a wide range of stitchery at an early age. She taught Gene to embroider at the age of four and moved her along to knitting and crocheting by the time she went to school. She graduated to the sewing machine before she was 10-years old.
“We didn’t have many toys when I was growing up,” Gene said. “My family believed children should learn useful skills at an early age. Not a bad idea, but in my secret heart, I wanted a doll.”
When she married and started a family of her own, she hoped for a daughter and the excuse to buy dolls.
She had two sons – wonderful boys, but they came into the world able to make that unmistakable little boy sound like a rumbling diesel truck and she bought the appropriate four wheeled vehicles and blocks for building toy highways. She wasn’t a stay-at-home mom, She worked for the county sheriff’s department in Lake City, Michigan, and satisfied her artistic bent with various painting crafts until October 1986 when she took a doll-making course. She knew immediately that all her artistry and skills came together. And in the world of her dreams, she saw a way, she could satisfy her desire for one doll or as many dolls as she could make for herself.
Within a year, she knew she’d found a vocation in which she could surround herself with the dolls she had always wanted.
“That first year, I bought molds and learned the mechanics of pouring, sanding and painting heads and arms and legs. Making cloth bodies was easy and I was a good seamstress. Making doll clothes was fun.”
Within that year, she knew she must begin to sculpt her own heads and make her own molds. There were many people making dolls based on other people’s creativity. She wasn’t willing to make copies of what other artists designed.
“I began to sculpt doll heads based on the daughters of friends and relatives and eventually our family was graced with five granddaughters who became models for my dolls,” the Michigan doll artist says.”
In the midst of the hectic years of fitting dollmaking and marketing into her busy life, her beloved mother died, followed shortly by the death of her best friend and in the midst of her grief, one of her sons was in a devastating auto accident.
“I thought we would lose him, too, but he survived and made us proud as he came through three years of therapy.” (He’s now an engineer with a leading automobile manufacturer.)
She thinks back on those painful years as an epiphany in which she learned to cherish family in ways she hadn’t understood before that time.
“My mother’s death in 1991 was the beginning of this very painful time in my life, but without these events, I might have been satisfied to continue in my hectic, do-it-all lifestyle. I made new priorities at that time and in 1993, I quit my job and began devoting myself to family and doll making fulltime.”
Currently, her husband, Larry, who is retired, makes molds from her original sculptured heads and he helps with stuffing doll bodies and other mechanical tasks.
“I have five beautiful granddaughters and they’ve been models and my oldest granddaughter, Samantha, who is 21 now, has been my helper since she was a little tot. She knows all the steps now and I believe she could even take over the artistic end of the business if that’s what she wants to do.”
Gene makes both porcelain and vinyl dolls. They have set in eyes, fine lashes, attractive wigs and well-designed clothes. Based on real people, each doll has a winning personality of its own.
“There are very few doll artists left,” Gene says. “We don’t use bought molds or clothes made overseas. I believe my dolls will satisfy the doll collector who wants to assemble a unique collection.”