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Zealand doll artist Jan McLean talks about her ever-evolving passion-dolls.


Jan McLean Doll
Left: Grace wears striped clam diggers underneath her color­ful costume. She measures 21 inches. Center: Bunny, a 25-lnch porcelain beauty, represents a girl from California. The Lollipop Girls Collection is limited to 5,000. Right: Lily's beaded silk velvet waistcoat and cuffs beautifully accent her wine-red silk velvet dress. She measures 21 inches.

Source: June/July 2001 • Doll Reader , Pages 42-45


"My interests include dolls, palm­istry, spiritual subjects, dolls, family history, movies, books, dolls, good wine and good company, family and probably dolls," states Jan McLean.

 McLean doll
Hanna doll by Jan McLean.

After spending 10 minutes with Jan, you will be engulfed by her laugh­ter and her positive attitude. Her love of a good time and her passion for dolls has led Jan to a fulfilling and success­ful career as a doll maker. This year, she celebrates the 10th anniversary of her first visit to the American Interna­tional Toy Fair in New York City.

"Our very first year at Toy Fair in 1991," she explains, "we came home with orders for hundreds of expensive dolls. We thought we had died and gone to heaven. We could­n't believe our good fortune. It was as if it was meant to be."

A retired intensive care and trauma nurse, Jan carried on more than one tradition that was started by her grandmother.

"My mother was a registered nurse, as was her mother," she says. "I was the third generation in my family to choose a career as a nurse. My mother and grandmother did not carry on their professions after they married. They were involved in the arts as sculptors and portrait artists."

Jan McLean doll
Lucy, 25 inches, wears a soft apple dress that reveals Jan's love of dyed fabrics.

Jan's grandmother also served as a source of inspi­ration to her when Jan was a child. "She taught me to believe that all things were possible," Jan explains. "I only had to believe that I could achieve whatever I desired and it would hap­pen. She was right."

This inspiration led Jan to retire from nursing to pur­sue her passion for dolls, even though she did not know what to expect. Jan's first creation was Isabel Googly, a reproduction German doll from the 1920s. "I sat up all night just looking at it, amazed that earth could be turned into such a thing of beauty," she says. "It still amazes me that I can create a face from a lump of clay and that I can breath life into cold, hard porcelain."

Dolls also became a form of therapy for Jan. "For me, dolls were an all-consuming pas­sion that took over my life at a time when I needed them. The tragedy and horror of losing siblings was unbearable," says Jan about a sad time in her life, "but making dolls and teaching others was very therapeutic for me and my students. Many had sad sto­ries like mine. We all loved the joy of creation, and I am sure the hours of laughter and friendship helped many when they needed it."

When Jan followed her instincts in 1991 and took her creations to the American International Toy Fair, "I had no idea why I had even consid­ered going to New York in 1991 in the middle of the Gulf War," she exclaims. "We were so green and totally shell­shocked. When we ar­rived at Toy Fair, we were so depressed and tearful be­ cause everybody else had such beautiful displays and flowers and drapery, and we had a white table­ cloth. We wanted to shrivel up and die."

The box containing the dolls that Jan and her company had shipped from New Zealand to New York be­came lost in transit and ar­rived the night before Toy Fair opened. Jan and her crew were trying to finish assembling the dolls as Toy Fair opened. "Then a miracle happened," she relates. "Dealers loved the dolls, which we thought were awful compared to every body else's. As fast as we put them together, the dealers snapped them up. It was unbelievable! People were 10 deep around our booth for the whole show. I hid under the table, un­able to cope with the excitement. The dealers crawled under the table, too. Many friendships were formed under that table. Our lives have never been the same since."

Jan McLean doll
LEFT TO RIGHT: Nellie's fiery tem­per and pouty expression are In con­trast to her cream sllk dress. She measures 21 inches. • Grace, a 21-inch doll, wears linen shoes that match her vibrant costume. • Hannah's peach silk velvet dress with lace collar and cuffs reveals Jan's flair for matching colors and fabrics. She measures 26 Inches. • Rose loves her black velvet hat. She measures 21 Inches.

The life of a doll maker forces Jan to wear many hats. She is a sculptor and designer, a manufacturer, importer, ex­porter, wholesaler, retailer, marketer and manager. In addition, Jan has a broad knowledge of fashion and fabrics, in­cluding colors, dyes and garment con­struction, mold making, slip casting, porcelain painting and wig making.

A talented team of 12 people help make Jan's dolls a success. "Each doll is a result of many hours by skilled craftsmen and women," she says. "We all have a passion for what we do, and we still get thrilled with the birth of each new creation."

Jan's studio is housed in a converted warehouse in an industrial part of Dunedin, New Zealand. A retail shop and gallery are located on the main street in Dunedin. Visitors can take a tour of the studio by appointment, where they can see dolls being made. Visitors can also view Jan's extensive collection that is housed in her studio. "I am a hoarder of wonderful treasures," she admits. "I have boxes and boxes of special pieces. I am a hunter of fabrics and laces. I col­lect beads from the many countries I visit in addition to leather for the fab­ulous shoes that match the costumes. Sometimes the leather can act as a trig­ger for a costume design."

An avid people watcher, Jan also collects "images of faces, expressions, fashion and colorings. I study people all the time. I am fascinated by the human condition, especially babies and adolescents."

For her 2001 collection, Jan has taken on a new challenge. She has pro­duced a line of vinyl dolls that she feels measure up to the quality of her previous creations. "I feel I have achieved an ex­ceptionally high-quality vinyl doll with the very best quality fabrics, laces, wigs and eyes for a very good price," she says.

Each of the new vinyl dolls has manicured fingernails, top and bottom eyelashes, a name bracelet and the Jan McLean Designs label on her costume. In addition, dreamy eyes, full lips and incised nostrils help to give the new dolls an air of elegance and sophistica­tion. "Each doll unfolds and surprises me," Jan says. "I never know what is going to happen. I have an idea, but my hands create something different."

Jan McLean doll
Odette, a 27-inch lady dressed In a dark, mauve-gray evening gown, is limited to 500.

The beautiful vinyl dolls Jan cre­ated for 2001 wear gorgeous, colorful costumes. "Like the dolls," she explains, "the costumes also just evolve. A picture or a piece of fab­ric will spark an inspiration. A color or combination of colors may be the trigger. Then I work on the design, first draping the doll with a color that I have de­cided on. Then I do sketches. Then I pull out all the boxes of 'stuff,' looking for the perfect combination. Stuff flies in all di­rections as the idea becomes real­ity. It can take days and weeks, or it can happen in a couple of hours. There is no magic formula."

It is hard to believe there is no magic involved when you look at Paige, Hannah, Lucy, Lily, Amy, Bonny Louise, Grace and Rose. Each doll in the vinyl collection

is limited to 3,500.

There are also two new ad­ditions to the Lollipop Girls col­lection for 2001. Cissy, a girl from Sydney, Australia, has hot-pink hair, black leather bell-bottom pants and hot-pink boots that match her hair. And Bunny, a girl from California, has blonde hair. She wears a tight, black leather miniskirt, matching bolero vest, open­ neck white shirt and long, red boots. Each of the new Lollipops is limited to 5,000.

Odette, a 27-inch lady dressed for a night on the town, is also part of the new collection. The redhead wears a tight -fitting, dark mauve-and­

gra y evening gown. A blue-gray marabou stole is draped over her shoul­ders, and she wears patent leather shoes. Odette is limited to 500.

In addition to working on this year's and next year's collection, Jan finds time to spent with her husband, Graeme, who works alongside Jan run­ning the doll business. "I met him when I was 17 years old, and we have been together ever since." The McLeans have four children.

Two live in London, England, and two live in Queenstown, New Zealand. After a busy

day, Jan and Graeme enjoy excursions with their golden retriever, Jack. "Jack is a source of delight and loves to run like the wind and swim," she says. "Every night we walk him along the beach, which gets me away from the studio."

"Every year is a challenge," Jan continues, "as I try something new. I guess I try to reinvent myself every year to stimulate collectors with some­thing different." What wonders we have to look forward to.

Collectors have speculated for years about the series of seven 21-inch Portrait Dolls offered by the Alexander Doll Company from 1945-46. Doll Reader is pleased to present photographs of the collec­tion and to provide exciting details about the series.


Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
Shown together for the first time are the 21-inch 1945-46 Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls. From left to right are: Orchard Princess, Godey, Victoria (also sold in 1939 as Princess Flavia) and Lady Windermere.

Source: March/April 2001 • Doll Reader , Pages 66-68


When we think of Madame Alexan­der, many seasoned collectors retain a mental image of Madame in her later years as the grand dame of the doll world, the woman who personified a successful doll company even though she no longer was involved in its day-to-day operation. The younger Madame Alexander was much more than the figurehead of a busi­ness. She was the business. She was not only the lead designer but also the key decision maker.

Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
The remaining three dolls in the series are from left to right: Melanie, An­toinette and Renoir (also named in ads as Carmen).

The period of Madame's life that collectors often deem her most cre­ative was from approximately the mid­l 1930s to the mid-1960s. Of particular interest to collectors is the company's era of composition dolls made from 1934 to 1946. Despite shortages caused by the Depression and World War II, the Alexander Doll Company was able to offer dolls that the world had not seen since the French bebis of the 1880s. A series of Portrait Dolls made from 1945-46 had been adver­tised, but none of the dolls had come to light ... until now.

Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
The dolls' clothing is tagged in an unusual place, at the top of the pan­taloons or attached to the waist seam of the dress, instead of on the outside shoulder seam. The Portrait Dolls share a basic type of petticoat, pantaloons, hose and tie shoes. Colors vary depending on the costume.

Madame Alexander's first large Por­trait Doll was released in the Alexander 1939 line. She was a towering 21-inch, all-composition beauty named Princess Flavia. The doll had tiny, pursed lips, glass sleep eyes with eyelashes, and an elaborate, mohair wig styled with braids that encircled her head. The doll was loosely based on a combination of opera characters, with an allusion toward roy­alty. Flavia was priced at $60. While un­substantiated, it is believed that very few of the Flavia dolls were ordered and sold in 1939. The Portrait Doll concept dis­appeared from the Alexander line. But as the end of World War II neared in 1945, Madame was ready with an impressive line-up of dolls, including an ambitious new venture.

Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
The close-up of Victoria reveals the style of make-up and lip rendering com­ mon to all the dolls. Since this doll was purchased with the others, she is the 1945-46 Victoria. The same doll had been issued in 1939 as Princess Flavia.

Princess Flavia was included in the 1945 Alexander line, only this time her name had been changed to Victoria. More exciting still was that Victoria was accom­panied by six other 21-inch all-composi­tion beauties. Each doll cost $7 5. Called the Portrait Dolls, these were the first in a series of dolls that to this day are, in some form or another, part of the Alexander line-up at Toy Fair.

The Portrait Dolls are tagged with the name Madame Alexander only. In many cases, the tag has been found on the underwear instead of on the outside shoulder seam. This may have been done to avoid marring the beauty of the costumes. All the dolls wear basically the same style undergarments, hose and shoes, with trim and color varia­tions depending upon the colors of the doll's costume. The face molds for the Portrait Dolls are all the same, as is the make-up. The eye colors range from a light brown to a very light blue.

Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
The Godey Portrait Doll would be issued again in the late 1960s with an almost-identical costume on the same size doll. The new doll, however, would be made of hard plastic and vinyl and have rooted hair.

Even the most severe critic would have to say that this group of dolls is ar­guably one of the finest lines ever pro­duced by the Alexander Doll Company. The dolls were publicized in advertise­ments with artist sketches. The dolls must have sold at least as well as ex­pected because the series was offered again in 1946. If none, or too few, had been sold in 1945, the line would have been discontinued. Madame had once again triumphed by being the first to initiate a new series of expensive, large dolls and by setting a standard of ex­cellence for others to follow.

The private collection shown here comes from a single owner who pur­chased the dolls from a Chicago store when they initially were offered. Some still have their original $ 7 5 price tags! Having been packed away for more than 50 years, the dolls' clothing, when photographed, needed a good steam­ing; but most of the dolls are in ex­cellent condition, with everything original to the dolls still intact. It is the first time the entire group has been on display and identified.

Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
The name Renoir was assigned to this doll in some print advertising, but the possibility exists that another name, Carmen, could have been used for this doll as well. The elaborate wig on this doll is made of mohair and was not meant to be disturbed.

The dolls have no personalized nametags. It was, and still is, the practice of the company to stamp the name of each character on the end of each Alexander box. The boxes in which this collection of dolls was packed did not survive. The names of the Portrait Dolls have been identified using sketches from 1940s newspaper ads. The names are Orchard Princess, Godey, Victoria, Princess Flavia, Lady Win­dermere, Renoir, Antoinette and Melanie. An ad has surfaced identi­fying the Renoir doll as Carmen; it is not known if the doll's name was changed.

While it is exciting to find even

one perfect Alexander doll from a

series that is more than 50 years old, to

find a formerly unseen, entire series

in the possession of the original owner

is a wonderful experience. Madame

Alexander often quoted the poet John

Keats, who wrote, "A thing of beauty is

a joy forever," when she described the

value of her dolls. The statement is es­

pecially appropriate for these extqor­

dinary creations from an icon of 20th

century doll design.

Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
Exquisitely costumed Melanie exhibits the attention to detail that Madame Alexander lavished on her mag­nificent line of 21-inch Portrait Dolls. The dolls' eye colors range fr om light brown to light blue.

Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
Antoinette was most likely an allu­sion to Queen Marie Antoinette. The doll has white hair and a French-style cos­tume.

Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
The Orchard Princess has a stun­ning shade of reddish-brown hair that picks up her brown eye color. Selling for $75 each in better department and toy stores, these dolls were considered high­ end dolls. They were advertised in news­ paper ads that featured artist sketches. The entire series of Portrait Dolls was offered for two consecutive years. No other complete collection of these seven dolls has been seen until now.

Madame Alexander Portrait Dolls
Lady Windermere, with her slightly peeled lip paint, is showing her age more than the other dolls. A skilled doll restorationist could make her look like new. Her hat, when steamed, most likely will be round in shape.

The author would like to thank photog;rapher Deirdre Olson for hei· outstanding photog;raphy and for alerting me to the existence of this amazing collection of dolls. Without her hard work, this story could not have been told.

Portrait Dolls is a registered tradeinark of the Alexander Doll Company.

Orchard Princess, Godey, Victoria, Princess Flavia, Lady Windennere, Renoir, Antoinette, Melanie and Carmen were na,nes tradeinarked by the Alexander Doll Company.

Alexandra Koukinova is to me a kindred spirit. Her love of literature and passion for an­tiquity are rivaled only by her love of life and her passion for her fellow creatures.


Alexandra Koukinova Russian doll
Arkady and Elizaveta are characters that Russian authors of the 19th and 20th centuries used to represent the summer life of urban Russian families.

Source: December/January 2001 • Doll Reader , Pages 58-60


Koukinova, who grew up in the Soviet Union, expe­rienced a happy childhood. Her par­ents and grandmother surrounded her with cultured, free-thinking people. She gained an appreciation for theater, cinema, painting and literature that later would be expressed through her dolls. "My grandmother taught me to like reading, and has made me a book gourmet," she says. "We discussed books we'd read or something we saw in the theater or the cinema for hours."

At a young age, Koukinova began to draw and sew dresses for dolls.

She also began to study books of fashion throughout history. After finishing school, Koukinova and her family began to dis­cuss what she should do with her life. "One idea has prevailed in my family," she says. "They felt I should be a biolo­gist and follow in my mother's footsteps. But a lot of my grandma's friends said that my drawings were very in­teresting, that I had a feeling for color and I did not need to be en-gaged in science at all." In 1983, when she was 19, Koukinova's life changed dramatically. Her happy and carefree existence ended when her mother died and she began studies at a theatri­cal institute.

Aexandra Koukinova Russian doll
Princess Mary, a character in Russian Romantic poet Lermontov's novel A Hero of Our Time, is an image that Koukinova has loved since childhood.

Koukinova began to study for the profession of the artist-technologist of a scene. The curriculum at the institute included studying 11 to 15 subjects each semester. "We studied history of art, history of Russian and foreign theater, dramatic art, history of costume, Rus­sian and foreign literature and theatri­cal-decorative art and painting," she says. "We also studied mechanical engineering and architectural plotting, re­sistance of materials, physics, equip­ment of a scene, technology of con­struction of scenery and theatrical light." In addition, students made pro­totypes of theatrical scenery and studied economy and management of a theater.

This intense training prepared Koukinova and her fellow students for their future profession. "Since the first year at the institute," she says, "we were involved in the theater and workshops. In our last year of education, we were quite the experts and ready for real work." It was during the fall of commu­nism in Russia that Koukinova entered the theater. "In 1988," she says, "in our country old traditions fell quietly but there were no new traditions yet." The­ater workers were underpaid, and as a result were not concerned with accuracy and attention to detail in scenery and costumes.

Alexandra Koukinova Russian doll
Snow Maiden traditional Russian fairy tale char­acter. Limited edition of 50 dolls.

Koukinova began to create dolls in the breaks between theater perfor­mances. "My folders were full of the non-realized sketches of costumes to never-realized performances," she says. "So I sewed my first rag doll." By studying books of Russian na­tional clothes, Koukinova began to re­create these costumes for her dolls. "Beauty and variety of our grandmothers' clothes impressed me," she says, "and I was dumbstruck by the striking discrep­ancy of clothes used by our 'national' dance ensembles in theater scenes."

After five years, Koukinova and her first husband were able to leave the the­ater through the help of her father. "My pa rescued us," she says. "He opened one of the first cooperative so­cieties in Moscow and got rather great money." Cooperative societies were created when the Russian government began to allow private persons to open small, private companies. As a result, the Alexandra Company was born.

Alexandra Koukinova Russian doll
Father Frost traditional Russian fairy tale char­acter. Limited edition of 50 dolls.

The Alexandra Company today consists of a staff of 70 people and pro­duces a collection of 12 to 20 limited edition dolls each year. Koukinova's second husband, Eugene, came to the company as a student and is now one of its directors. And her sister, Anastassia, is "the face of the Alexandra Company in America," Koukinova says. "Anas­tassia receives dolls through customs," she continues, "communicates with all dealers and dispatches doll orders, works on exhibitions and goes to shows. She also does all the paperwork, gives advertising orders and buys and sends to Moscow anything that is nec­essary. And she seriously studies math­ematics at Columbia University!"

During its 10-year existance, the Alexandra Company has faced many dif­ficulties. The company has moved five times in 10 years. It also imports slip porcelain, which is water mixed with clay that is used to make porcelain parts of dolls, from America because slip is not made in Russia. And Russian customs charge three or more times the price of slip to import and ship it into Russia. Koukinova does not let these ob­stacles get her down. "All of these diffi­culties do not prevent me from feeling great pleasure from what I do," she says. "And I consider myself to be a very happy person, as I live among people who share my opinion of life. And, as far as the struggle with difficulties, you see, it unites the people always."

Alexandra Koukinova Russian doll
The Merchant-llias is limited to 20 dolls.

Russian theater, literature and paint­ing are a source of inspiration for Kouki­nova 's dolls. She is particularly interested in the Silver Century of Russian art. "A wonderful period of bloom for Russian literature," according to Koukinova, the Silver Century produced works of liter­ature by Blok, Bunin, Turgenev and Chekhov, and paintings by Vrubel, Borisov and Musatov.

When asked about her hobbies, Koukinova responded, "What hobby? I simply do not have time for it. And fur­thermore, my job and hobby in general coincide." After a moment, she corrects herself, "I have hobbies. It is my apart­ment, my flowers, which I communicate with when I come home, and my ani­mals. I love my home. I help my husband upholster furniture. And I have a small collection of ancient bags, buttons and Russian costumes and headdresses of hand-made linen with hand embroidery."

Alexandra Koukinova Russian doll

"I have two dogs and a cat," Koukinova continues. "Each one was found outdoors at different times. The boxer has lived with me for 10 years. The other dog is a mongrel my husband and I found two years ago. And the cat, Sonja, was a tiny kitten four years ago. She cried so desperately in the street on Christmas night that we heard her from the fourth floor!"

Koukinova feels that making dolls is her destiny. She hopes that her dolls will continue to bring happiness to oth­ers. "I hope so much," she says, "that my dolls please people and distract them from their problems. I hope to help them return to their childhood. The dolls' world is a fairy tale."

Alexandra Koukinova Russian doll
Left: Girl on Skates is a miniature bell from the 2000 collection. Right: Angel is a bell from the 2000 collection.

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