Friedericy Dolls: A Mother - Daughter Story
The treasured Friedericy Dolls with their hand sculpted faces and their intricate costume designs have captivated collectors for over twenty years worldwide.
BY ANN LEIS
Source: Fall 2012 • Doll News , Pages 102-109
A mother-daughter team, Judith Friedericy and her daughter Lucia, have enjoyed the rare privilege of working together to create these magnificent, one-of-a-kind sculptures. But sadly, some may not realize their successful partnership merged, not by choice, but from the untimely death of their beloved son and brother, John.
Pronounced Free-der-ee-see, the family loved art. Lucia describes growing up with her older brother, John, and her younger sister, Bonnie, as "just three kids who liked to make stuff." Their mother, Judith, always encouraged art because she was also an artist. Lucia explained that as children they did not care about regular toys, but preferred arts and crafts so they could, "think up things to make." "We were a kit-making family, that's how we played," Lucia remembers fondly. And in retrospect, Lucia and Judith feel they have never known another family quite like their own.
The children called themselves the "Friedericy Family Puppeteers."
John, Lucia and Bonnie often attended summer art classes at their local community center. "One of us would learn a new skill, then come home and teach it to the rest of us," recalls Lucia. Their artistic talents stood out and they soon began assisting teachers and helping other students with their projects. It was there Lucia's brother John met marionette maker, Jim Gamble. Gamble taught John all aspects of puppet making including how to cast resin. The children took off with the idea and made over twenty-five marionette characters using resin, cloth and papiermache. They soon began putting on puppet shows, writing plays ,if and entertaining their friends and family. "My Dad built us a large marionette theater in the garage and the art center would bring over the little kids to see our shows," recalls Lucia. One of their favorite shows was Punch and Judy.
Even at an early age, Lucia wanted to make dolls. "I always dreamed of making a doll in a three dimensional form but could not figure it out," she said. When she was six, Judith ,gave Lucia old sheets to make into rag dolls. She cut them into gingerbread shapes, stuffed them and made clothing for them. Lucia also made colorful hand-blown eggs. She doesn't remember how the idea came to her, but one day she decided to put an egg on top of her rag doll and called them "eggshell dolls." They were very popular and Lucia sold them at the local art fair and gift shop. To add to her artistic talent, Lucia's grandmother taught her how to sew, embroider and appreciate fabrics. These skills laid the foundation for her future endeavors into fashion design and costuming.
Love for art and theater remained with the Friedericy children into adulthood. John lived in San Francisco and became a prominent sculptor and painter. Lucia became a costume designer and Bonnie was an actress. Lucia worked as head costume designer at Bonnie's school, Occidental College, for ten years. It was there she met her husband, Patrick O'Conner, while free-lancing in the summer repertoire theater. "Patrick was an older alumnus who came back during the summers to help," Friedericy explains. The couple had two children, Nicholas and Patrick, Jr. Shortly after giving birth to her second son, Patrick, who was premature, Lucia tried to think of a way to stay at home, care for her children and still make a good living.
She remembered her eggshell dolls and went back to visit the local gift shop. While there, Lucia saw a beautiful wax-over-porcelain doll selling for $3,600 and became very intrigued. "I remember thinking, wow, I would Jove to make a doll like that," she recalled. One day Lucia brought John into the shop to see the doll, and he thought they could make them. Being a sculptor, John had an idea to use porcelain clay instead of liquid porcelain. He told her he could sculpt a head, then hollow it out so it wouldn't be heavy. "I thought he was crazy because I thought you had to use porcelain the way everyone else used porcelain," Friedericy exclaimed. But six weeks later, Lucia received a box of porcelain heads. (Half of them broke during shipping.) Lucia immediately started experimenting on them using paints and wax. "I melted some wax in a coffee can then tried painting and dipping them," she remembers. "Those first ones were very thick with wax and looked pretty bad but that's how we got our start."
Doll making began in 1988. Brother and sister had the perfect arrangement where John sculpted the heads, arms and legs, and Lucia painted, waxed and outfitted the pieces. Judith assisted both children when they needed help. The siblings decided to exhibit their dolls at a small art fair in Glendale, California. "People said oh, how interesting but nobody bought anything," Lucia laughs. But while there, she discovered a doll magazine, something she never knew existed. The magazine introduced the Friedericys to the world of dolls, doll shows, and Toy Fair.
Lucia learned about a competition called "The Silver Dollar City Show" in Missouri where dolls were judged so she decided to send several of her pieces. Her dolls won a first, second, and third place. She met Donna Willits, one of the judges and founder of IDEX. Willits judged Lucia's first two shows and was so impressed with her work, she offered to represent Friedericy dolls at Toy Fair.
It was a very exciting yet difficult period for the family. About the same time, the Friedericys
learned that John had tested HIV positive and was diagnosed with AIDS. The news was devastating. "We had heard of the famous Toy Fair and we thought if John could receive some recognition there, it would be a wonderful thing," said Lucia. (1)
The Friedericys were a hit at their Toy Fair debut in 1990. Lucia sold her first doll to Actress Demi Moore. John was very excited and determined to produce more dolls but was steadily growing weaker. "He came to the very first Toy Fair but he was pretty ill already," Lucia remembers. John experienced the beginnings of success but sadly passed away in July of that year. He was 34 years old.
The loss was heartbreaking for the Friedericy family. One way Lucia coped with the grief was to work even harder on the dolls. Judith knew with John gone there was no way Lucia could keep the dolls going so she offered to help. "I had never worked in porcelain before but I told Lucia, let me try," Judith said. In the beginning, it wasn't easy for Judith. She explains she was not a sculptor but prefers working two dimensionally using paints and mosaics. Judith not only had to learn to sculpt but then had to learn to work in a style and structure developed by John.
"Having watched John work for so long, I just did what he did, though the first few attempts were pretty pathetic," Judith remembers.
Soon mother and daughter became full time creative partners. Judith started developing her
own distinctive style while incorporating her son's technique. Like John, she uses no molds but freehand sculpts from a block of fine porcelain clay, then hollows them out to one quarter inch thickness. Judith's sculptures have pretty faces and childlike features. When she finishes a piece, her grandson stops by the house and delivers them to Lucia. "It is so exciting to hand Lucia freshly fired pieces and to see what she produces," exclaims Judith. "Sometimes I scarcely recognize them. They are so transformed by her, it is magical."
And magical, they are. For those who know Friedericy dolls, they would say the pieces are exquisite. What makes Lucia's dolls so exceptional is her keen eye for fabrics and her attention to costume details. "I love fabric, textiles and embroidery," Lucia shares. "I collect fabric." Lucia searches for unique materials and accessories in some very unusual places. She finds fabric in thrift shops, antique malls, swap meets, textile shows and sometimes even the zoo gift shop. She'll use unique fabrics from old purses, embroidered place mats and on occasion, from a Christmas gift. "My eyes are always open, but I'm embarrassed to say I'll cut up just about anything," admits Lucia.
Lucia's dolls start with cloth over wire armature. She paints the porcelain arms, legs and heads using acrylics then dips them in wax to give them a luminous look. Lucia makes the dolls' eyes separately, using paper clay that she shapes, paints and glazes. "I don't sculpt the eyes because they look more like set-in eyes when I use a different material," she describes. Costuming is Lucia's favorite part. Inspiration comes from children's illustrations, art galleries, paintings, colors, and fabrics with interesting textures. "I'm very moved by color combinations of textures and fabric," says Lucia. Often, dress bodices are created using paper clay while sleeves and skirts are made from fabric. Sometimes patterns are too large in scale so Lucia will paint small details onto the bodice that match the fabric. Sculpted paper clay also gives the illusion of finely detailed clothing or a trompe l'oeil effect. For outfits, Lucia gravitates toward embroidered fabrics and textiles from other countries. "I love silks
because it works really well with dolls. It's not too bulky," she explains.
When the Friedericys are not making dolls, Judith and Lucia still find time to have fun together. They enjoy swimming, shopping and going to the movies. Lucia loves hiking and enjoys yoga. Judith is retired but continues to teach art classes to children in her converted garage. Despite having problems walking due to "post polio syndrome." " Judith is up and down ladders working on a very large 16' x 20' mosaic tile wall. When asked what is the secret to their success they both agreed that giving one another space is the answer. "We completely sta y out of each other's way about the part of it we do." says Lucia. Both,
mother and daughter talk every morning by phone collaborating over doll ideas and direction. They live just a mile apart but stay away to give one another space to work Judith explains "There's a lot of energy that comes from two different ideas both working independently off the other, which makes it [creating dolls] ver y exciting."
Judith and Lucia admit that if they were in the same household doll making might not have gone so easily for them, but quickly add, "There is no friction over dolls, only when we try to cook together in the kitchen."