Art doll

Teena Surma Cultivates Creativity with Fanciful Doll

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For our newest Umbrella magazine, Quinte Arts Council dedicated the winter issue to celebrating the art of craftsmanship and how the lines between the two often blur in innovative and exciting ways. . We’ve profiled 12 artisans from Quinte who express their art through their craft; the ninth in this series is Teena Surma at Bancroft.

Teena Surma is a self-taught doll maker whose work does not easily adapt to one medium: sculpture, textile, fiber – Teena’s dolls include elements of all.

“I started making dolls probably a little under ten years ago. I’ve always been fascinated by puppets and dolls, and originally wanted to work with wood,” says Teena. “But then I discovered clay and found it suited me better. It was fast, it was fun, and it was also messy. So I really enjoyed that.

Teena has been creating since she was very young: “My father was an artist, so he was passionate about drawing and woodcutting, so I did all kinds of things. I was exposed to a lot of playing with watercolours, doodling, pen and ink, the wood burning that my dad did,” she says.

Her grandmother was an oil painter, but her skill with a brush wasn’t the only influence on Teena’s creative expressions: “A very big part of the inspiration behind making dolls was tea parties and my grandmother’s stories,” she says. “From telling us nursery rhymes, from fairy tales to her own made up stories, it’s such a big part of my childhood and my memory. And I think that’s where a lot of these dolls come from.

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Teena’s dolls are each one of a kind and can take up to a week to make. “I don’t use molds or anything,” she says, and she only works on a few at a time so everyone can be truly individual. Each is hand sculpted with air-dried paper clay, and once dry, sanded, painted, threaded, then she creates the costumes. “I like to use vintage fabrics when I can; you can get really funky old or tiny designs which is fine for my doll size. And it’s also nice to recycle. Hair is all natural fibers; sometimes it’s braided, sometimes it’s needled. “It just depends on my mood that day.”

Teena has made countless dolls over the years (“hundreds”) and each has a different personality, from her hair, facial expression and clothing. She also makes “critters” – whimsical raccoons, foxes and frogs are some of her latest creations. Each has a name – Stella, Coco, Petal, Emma & Ethel Frog – and she sometimes posts on Facebook for suggestions. Her dolls have traveled across Canada, the United States and Europe to find their homes. She has her favorites and says she loves when clients send her pictures of their dolls in their new home: “It’s fun to see them…what are they up to now?” FB @thefancifuldoll