Nicole Marschollek-Menzner's expressive children brim with a full range of emotions.
BY MYRNA L. RUBENSTEIN
Source: August 2001 • Doll Reader , Pages 32-35
The mountains of Thuringia echo with the I names of famed doll companies ... Kestner, Armand Marseille, Kammer & Reinhardt. Add another name to the list-Zwergnase. Zwergnase is a company based in a region deeply steeped in doll history, but the vinyl dolls that the company produces bear very little resemblance to their 19th-century ancestors. The faces of Zwergnase dolls brim with vigor and emotion. They wear clothing that reflects today's casual lifestyle. They are dolls with attitude.
The fertile mind of doll artist Nicole Marschollek-Menzner is the engine that drives Zwergnase. The dolls are a reflection of her artistic vision, and it is one that combines a love for children with an eye finely tuned to reality. "The character expressions of the Zwergnase dolls make them stand out in a crowd," says Nicole. "I create sculpts that reflect real children, not just the pretty faces of children, but the emotional ones."
Indeed, the faces of the dolls in Nicole's 2001 collection reflect a full range of emotions. Benedetta, Jojanne and Heloise are laughing out loud. Ann-Lene and Milly have broad smiles. Albertine, Bloeme, Amelie and Bruun are thinking serious thoughts. And Beau seems to be having a difficult moment.
While Zwerganse dolls reflect a spectrum of emotions, Nicole explains that she concentrated on the theme of Joy and Laughter for 2001. "I think this collection represents joy and laughter better than any in the past," she says. "The challenge [in creating the sculpts] is to create the expression you envision in your mind," says Nicole. "I have found that the most challenging yet has been to produce the expression of laughter as seen in many of the 2001 dolls. When a child laughs, not only does the mouth change, but also the eyes and other areas of the face."
Nicole says that children from everyday life inspire her creations. "I am able to create my facial sculpts by viewing children in everyday life. A special feature or expression that I see will stay in my mind. I am able to use these visions and blend them into a new facial expression as I sculpt."
The artist creates her initial sculpts in clay. "Once I have created the sculpt I am searching for, the mold is then created in wax and from wax to silicone. The silicone is then used to create the industrial form for the vinyl production.
"I choose only the best materials to create my final pieces," Nicole explains. "Zwergnase owns the vinyl factory and produces the vinyl for all of my dolls. I add to the realistic looks with wigs made of mohair or human hair. The glass eyes are made of mouthblown glass, and this really makes the dolls look realistic. Incidentally, the same producer of my dolls' eyes also creates replacement eyes for people."
Zwergnase dolls are also appreciated for their interesting clothing, and Nicole oversees those, as well. "I design all of my doll clothing," she says. "I design the costume for a doll once the facial sculpt is completed. I think that the clothing should be designed for each sculpt individually. This brings the creation together for me. I attend fabric trade shows and choose only the finest of materials, including natural silks and fine cottons. I choose fabrics and colors that will complement my style of doll making."
Nicole says that she gains artistic fulfillment as she oversees the evolution of her creations from concept to reality. "As an artist, it is important to me to be involved in each step of the production.
The reward is to see the last details performed and watching your creation come to life just as you envision it."
As a youngster in Rauenstein, Germany, Nicole always envisioned becoming an artist. "The area is famous for toy making, and I grew up surrounded by the art of toy and doll making," relates Nicole. "This inspired me to pursue not necessarily a career, but a life as an artist. I knew I wanted to create. I always have been interested in creating artistic expression. As a teenager, I was known to create my own jewelry. My mother still comments on the outrageous earrings I would design and wear. These were elaborate expressions of myself. We still get a laugh out of them when we discuss them." Nicole received encouragement from her family and teachers to fulfill her artistic dreams. She studied art in school and eventually received a bachelor's degree in toy making and mechanical design from the College of Design and Mechanical Engineering in Sonneberg, Germany.
Nicole explains that a major event in world history, the fall of the Iron Curtain, gave her the freedom to fulfill her ambitions.
"I was 20 years old and had lived in East Germany my entire life," she relates. "This change gave me the opportunity to do what I do today. I was able to pursue my dream of creating dolls and owning a business. I can work for myself with the freedom I need to express my artistic views and make decisions for myself regarding the marketing of my creations."
Given the freedom to create the dolls she wanted to create, Nicole still had much to learn. She recalls that among the challenges she faced when learning to create dolls was learning the anatomy of the human body. "This is so important as I strive to create dolls that are in proportion to the actual body of a child. The hands, fingers, feet, toes, etc., must all be in proportion. This is necessary to create a doll with realistic features. The proportion is also necessary in the creation of a facial sculpt. All of the facial features must be in tune to create the final sculpt."
After receiving her degree Nicole went to work for a doll manufacturer in her region. But she knew that she wanted to have her own doll company. Nicole's dream of creating and marketing her own dolls came true when she and her husband, Bernd started Zwergnase in 1994. Bernd serves as Zwergnase's General Director.
Since then, Nicole's vivacious child dolls have captured the attention of doll collectors worldwide. Zwergnase dolls are available in retail doll shops in the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Netherlands, Sweden, South Africa, Japan, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Finland, Austria and Singapore. "By making my dolls available in smaller retail stores, I am able to feel confident that the dealers carry a certain expertise where my dolls [and bears, which I also design and create], are concerned. This is so important for the collector, who may have many questions about my creations and how they are produced." Nicole and Bernd live in a village outside of Schalkau, Germany, and the Zwergnase factory is about five minutes from her house. The mother of two youngsters, Greta, age 10, and Mees, age 2, Nicole leads a demanding life. "I do not have a typical workday schedule. I also am involved in the production of the dolls and am needed during certain set hours while the production assistants are in the factory. The entire production facility is housed in our one factory. From the vinyl production to the sewing of fabrics, the dolls are completely created under one roof.
"I do, however, do a great deal of work at home. I will sometimes work on my sculpts at home in the evenings after my children have gone to sleep. Sometimes when I am very focused on a design, I cannot stop working until I finish the sculpt. There are also times when I must wait until some aspect of industrial production is completed. As I sculpt, I envision the final product and work as hard as I can to complete the design to my utmost satisfaction. I also must have enough time to do this. If my children need me, or other situations are presented, I must hold off on the production until I can devote myself completely to the design."
With each new collection, Nicole continually strives to extend the range of her abilities. "I try to get better with each doll I make," she says. "I do not look back on my previous work as I am pleased with each new collection. I always try to improve each one and challenge myself each year to create new and exciting dolls for collectors. I have found that I am able to test my limitations as an artist a little more with each collection." It is exciting to watch such a talented artist grow.