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Fern Vasi - Maker of Unique Character Porcelain 12th Scale Dolls House Dolls

Deb Weissler

Posted on 27 Jul 2009

Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes
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FERN'S “Sherlock” was not the brooding Basil Rathbone so many of us associate with Sherlock Holmes but was instead inspired by the handsome and enigmatic British actor Ronald Howard, who starred as a more personable Holmes in the 1954 television series ‘Sherlock Holmes’. And I had to have him!

Now mind you, I knew very little about Sherlock Holmes, having read just one or two of Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales, but I tucked him away in a drawer until I could decide just exactly what I wanted to do with him. That’s the way it is with so many of Fern Vasi’s customers. You pass her doll table, fairly bursting with characters straight out of life, filled with colour, whim and charm and you just have to buy one. It may be a 180° departure from anything you are working on at the moment but that doesn’t matter.

Examine her dolls closely and you may recognise a familiar face: Elton John behind the piano; suave Maurice Chevalier dapper in blue worsted and straw bowler; and Toulouse Lautrec, paint brush in hand. Fern’s portrait dolls are second to none.

Butcher, baker, candlestick maker, even the Tooth Fairy—Fern has made them all. Her imagination works nonstop, whether waking or dreaming. A confirmed people watcher, Fern captures glimpses or moments that she files away in her psyche until she can return to her workbench and transcribe that look into her dolls.

“I hate interruptions!”

Whether carving, painting or dressing her characters, Fern makes it clear she goes to another place, losing all track of time, missing meals until Darla, her golden retriever, reminds her it’s time for chow. “I hate interruptions! Phone calls are a no-no. When you are self-employed you must be extremely disciplined.”  Disciplined or not, Fern can be a whirling dervish when she is driven by her creative muse.
What makes Fern’s dolls infinitely appealing is her ability to listen to customers as they stroll the aisles at miniature fairs. Catching snatches of conversations about whom or what they would like to see in miniature, Fern brings those wishes to the next fair, delighting her ever-growing list of new and returning buyers.

New York City lit the spark

Fern Vasi's Happy Days imageFern started collecting and making miniatures almost three decades ago. Prior to picking up her sculpting tools she worked as a hairdresser, manicurist, floral designer, greeting card designer, and interior decorator; each one imparting the skills she would eventually utilise when she began crafting her dolls. It was her native New York City that lit the spark.
The Big Apple is known for its wonderful animated department store windows beginning in late November and running through December. Macy’s and F.A.O. Schwarz among others fill their storefront windows with the magic of the holidays. “I grew up in the city and I’ve always loved tiny things!” So Fern built an animated North Pole, complete with a sleeping Santa whose stomach rose and fell, a doting Mrs Claus, elves dashing madly to and fro, and all the hubbub Christmas brings. When Fern couldn’t find proper elves, she made her own from clay.
 “I knew I could sculpt. It’s just something you can or can’t do.” So filled with beginner’s confidence, Fern’s first venture yielded her $5000 from an admirer whom she kept waiting two years before giving her the Christmas scene.

“My brain was on overload!”

Wanting to use something “classier” than clay, Fern decided to give porcelain a try. “I begged, borrowed, and stole methods from other doll artists, mostly large doll makers. I read countless books, practiced for months, and signed up for a class for pouring moulds held at a doll show.”
Fern walked into class and discovered it was for doll makers with five years or more experience. Undaunted she plopped down and “to shut me up they taught me everything I needed to know in three hours. My brain was on overload! Everyone said “You can’t carve porcelain” and I asked, Why not?” 
Fern admits it would be easier and faster to make her dolls from clay, even resin, but porcelain is her thing. “Resin has a shelf life of 55 years. There are porcelain jugs around since before Christ. Porcelain is like liquid rock. Carving it gives my dolls faces character lines, making them unique.”

The show circuit

Her first miniature fair was a bit of a disappointment but for her second, in Anaheim, CA, she was put in the front row next to veteran silversmith Peter Acquisto, a plum spot to be in for a beginner. Foot traffic was guaranteed and Fern sold her first doll. “I was good to go,” she laughingly recalls.

As Fern followed the show circuit, she taught doll making workshops to help cover expenses, but quickly realised that, although her students loved the classes, she did not. Eventually she decided “there was not enough rum in the world” to entice her into another workshop and fans would have to be content shopping her fair tables, which she fills with dozens and dozens of unique characters at each one.

Fern’s Dr Watson has now joined Sherlock Holmes on Baker Street, another one of Fern’s inspirations. “I will go on with my dolls as long as I still love doing them. Then I’ll stop and move on. I still dream about being a micro surgeon!” Fern grins.

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