Name: Carved Wood Dolls by Floyd Bell – 1978 to the present
About the Artist: Floyd Bell, a master carver and former woodshop instructor, delights in carving wooden dolls. A peg-jointed Victorian-style doll became his first doll in 1978 while attempting to illustrate to his students that something beautiful could be carved from wood. Made in a variety of sizes, Bell signs his dolls and includes a certificate of authenticity. His doll creations, most of which are one-of-a-kind (OOAK), develop from his imagination or his inspiration to create portraits of historical figures. Floyd Bell has been commissioned to make dolls after dignitaries and as Hollywood movie props. Celebrities own Floyd Bell dolls. From the Clinton White House and Clinton Library to the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, Floyd Bell and his dolls are admired worldwide. While his preferred medium is wood, he has also learned to make porcelain dolls.
” What a privilege to work with a medium I love—wood. The touch, the feel and the smell of wood is a sensual delight in itself. To sculpt in wood is so calming and relaxing; it can be compared only to a sedative.” —Floyd Bell
An octogenarian, Mr. Bell is an honorary member of the National Institute of American Doll Artists (NIADA).
“The Best of Floyd Bell photos will go into the NIADA archives. They are all OOAK hand-carved originals. My Tony fashion dolls and all of my composition and original small edition resin creations will go into the archives. This is a tremendous body of work.”
This installation showcases a few of Floyd Bell’s magnificent works of doll art with additional intimate details about his art in his own written and spoken words. See the video at the end.
The photograph above illustrates two of Floyd’s first dolls, a peg-jointed Victorian doll and an antique reproduction of a French Thuillier A14 T.
“My very first doll was dressed by an adult class woodshop student who was a dressmaker in Germany. She was 80 years old. The doll was a peg-jointed wooden Victorian doll that I saw on the cover of a McCall’s magazine in 1978. I carved it as a demonstration model in all of my woodshop classes which included day and night classes. I carved a total of 10 of these dolls. I still have some of them…
…I took a porcelain class and learned to China paint the [porcelain doll’s] features.”
Before her death in 2020, Floyd Bell captured the likeness of Her Royal Majesty, Queen Mother Semane Bonolo Molotlegi. Two of his dolls honor Her Majesty. One doll is shown above wearing a green dress. The other is illustrated in the next image. Her Majesty was a member of the Royal Family of the Royal Bafokeng Nation in South Africa’s North West Province.
“I made two dolls of Queen Mother… Queen Mother sent the green fabric by Senator Diane Watson.“
President of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (above right) and his wife, Janet Museveni (above left) are among Bell’s political doll subjects.
Portrait dolls of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were made during President Obama’s first term.
From Bell’s American Heritage series, among several others, are James Beckwourth (an 1800s American Western Frontier mountain man, fur trader, and explorer); Madam C. J. Walker (early 1900s black haircare industry entrepreneur and self-made millionaire); and Phillis Wheatley (first African American author of a published book of poetry, 1773).
Also from the American Heritage series is a portrait doll of Malcolm X (minister, human rights activist, and prominent Black Nationalist). In the background, also by Floyd, is a pencil drawing on canvas of Minister Malcolm.
“My dolls portray strong Black characters, real or created.”
Taken on the set of Sister Act, from Bell’s photo archives is a photo of him with Whoopi Goldberg. In the foreground are Goldberg’s collection of dolls from the American Heritage series. Floyd further explains:
“This picture was taken on the film set of the Sister Act in LA. L-R Mary McLeod Bethune, Booker T. Washington, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, New Orleans Praline Lady, and Matthew Henson. She [Whoopi] purchased them all… The New Orleans Praline Lady and Harriet Tubman reside in the Louvre. Harriet Tubman resides in the Clinton Library.”
Inspired by neighborhood children he played with as a child are a series of dolls representing children that Bell named Country Kids. In the above image, a one-of-a-kind Country Kids doll rides a carousel carved by the artist.
“I hand-carved the horse from jelutong wood. The pole and brass base are found objects.”
The man and woman are Floyd’s African “Woodobies.” Carved from black walnut, the Woodobies stand 28- and 26 inches tall.
“I try to select wood that matches the color of the skin of my subjects. I love black walnut for medium-to-dark skin complexions. I like alder, jelutong, and basswood for a subject like Barack Obama. I use oil stain or bleach to arrive at shades in between.”
These two dolls are part of Bell’s Afro Euro Design collection. The dresses were designed by Regina Dale whom Bell describes as a daring designer.
“The doll in red is a casting from Crissenda, my UFDC club doll; 18” tall, cloth body, wire armature. The doll in purple [print] is an original carving.”
In this final photo, Floyd Bell poses with a 25-inch one-of-a-kind doll named Sherry. This doll has a hand-carved mahogany head, a mohair wig, painted facial features, and a composition body. Sherry wears a vintage dress.
Read more about Mr. Bell and his dolls in an artist profile written and published by the curator in 2006.
Enjoy the 2021 NIADA video by Mary Ellen Frank, “The Best of Floyd Bell” below.
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