Updated: Sep 13
Take careful look at a doll made by Lynne and Michael Roche. You'd never guess that two individuals had worked hand in hand to create it. Beautifully designed, elegantly proportioned and carefully crafted, each Roche doll is a meticulous piece of art.
BY CELIA SANDERSON
Source: February 2001 • Doll Reader , Pages 54-55
Married for 22 years, the Roches are embarking now on their 21st year as a doll making duo. Their harmonious convergence of talent combines Lynne's training as an artist with Michael's expertise as a woodworker.
"Michael does the wood and ceramic parts of the bodies," relates Lynne. "I create the model for the head, paint the dolls and design their clothes. Michael comes in toward the end and works on it and makes the masters and molds."
Collectors are attracted to the nostalgic quality of Roche dolls. Lynne says that she gets ideas for her dolls' clothing from the past and from fairy tales. "Generally, they hark back to the period of my childhood from the 1950s and 1960s. I grew up in a suburban setting outside of London.
Her dolls often wear knitted clothing. "I really don't like using fancy silks and lace," she relates. "The dolls wear day-to-day clothes, but they sometimes are a bit more fanciful. I use a lot of cloth that has been naturally dyed, and I mix appliqués and embroidery for the detailing along with other things that interest me."
Lynne describes the dolls' clothing as conservative. "There is at times some kind of restraint about the clothing that appeals to me the mixture of using woolens and cottons and natural sorts of fibers. I like layered things."
It's important to both Lynne and Michael that the clothes not overwhelm the doll.
"We think it's essential that we keep the clothes in proportion to the size of the doll. The bodies are very important to our dolls, and they must articulate well when they wear the clothes."
How well the dolls articulate is Michael's department. A former furniture restorer and maker, he produces the beautifully shaped pieces that, when put together, comprise a Roche doll.
"The shapes are very traditional," he says of his dolls' bodies. "We use wood whereas doll makers around the turn of the 20th century used composition for the bodies. I used to use a mixture of woods that worked for different parts of the body. We mostly painted the bodies at first. People started saying that they liked seeing the wood so we stopped painting them."
Nowadays, Michael carves the bodies from lime wood. "It works well for carving and has a nice, close grain, so I use lime now exclusively." "Its got a pale color, too," adds Lynne.
Lynne says that she looks to antique dolls for inspiration for body shapes. "We're very influenced by the old dolls. I collect antique dolls and undress them and look at the bodies. There are so many different and fascinating body shapes and mate-rials. I think that's why bodies have always been important to us."
In the mysterious ways that artists work, Lynne's fascination with antique dolls somehow transfers into Roche dolls. Barrie and Danny Shapiro, proprietors of The Toy Shoppe in Rich-mond, Virginia, have offered the Roches' dolls in America for many years, and, Barrie observes, "Not only collectors of fine contemporary artists seek Lynne and Michael's work, but so do people who know and collect rare antique dolls.
While Roche dolls are not meant as toys for children, Lynne says, "I always think of my dolls as dolls that you actually can play with. That really is important. I always enjoy hearing from people that they change the clothes, make clothes for them and change their positions. Quite a lot of dolls are hands off. You hardly can touch them.
I like the idea that ours can be han-dled-that they're more like dolls than sculptural pieces. We love receiving pictures of groupings of our dolls that people have arranged we get many during the holidays.
The Roches create their dolls in their 18th-Century yellow-colored sandstone house in the city of Bath. The city, originally home to Michael's parents, appeals to them artistically. "Its a very harmonious place to live visually," says Lynne. "It has hills all around it so it doesn't sprawl out. You can get into the countryside very easily. And it's a small enough city that you actually can walk around it very easily." “It only takes a quarter of an hour to walk from one side of the city to the other, adds Michael.
Not only is Bath surrounded by hills, but it also contains a few, and the Roches live on one.
"Our hill is about five to 10 minutes from the center of the city walking down the hill and about 20 minutes walking back up," laughs Lynne.
Lynne and Michael's house on a hill contains a ceramics room and a woodworking shop in the basement.
"We have a garden and fish in a pond," says Lynne. "Our house is filled with dolls. It's a lovely place to live and work."
In addition to fish in a pond and many dolls, the Roches have cats- five of them. "There are cats all over our studio," describes Lynne. "I work in one room that has two baskets, and there usually is one cat in each of them." Occasionally, cat motifs find their way onto the clothing of the Roches' dolls.
When they're not making dolls, the Roches are seeking inspiration for new ones. They enjoy long weekends looking for antique dolls in Paris. Since they appreciate furniture, they also make frequent trips to the American Museum just outside Bath. "They have room settings going back to Colonial times, ," says Lynne, and a facsimile of George Washington's garden.
"It's kind of our favorite place to escape."
The fact that Lynne and Michael share their free time together helps unify their artistic vision. Ultimately, their dolls, and collectors, benefit. As Barrie Shapiro says, “Sometimes in the world of art and creativity, there is a magic that happens when a husband and wife work together. Lynne and Michael Roche are an excellent example of how one partner contributes and interacts with the other and how their work is made special because of that."