The Dark Arts of Dolls, Interview with Lynn Dewart

Lynn Dewart’s upcoming exhibition of work at Expressive Arts @ 32 & Thorn

By Katherine Sweetman

For almost 20 years artist and scholar Lynn Dewart has been creating magical, sculptural, figurative creatures. OK I’ll call them dolls. But these “dolls” aren’t for kiddies.


Well, perhaps some of them could be.

"Bone Baby"

For 17 years Lynn has been facilitating workshops to help others make “dolls”, and this Saturday, January 21st, is the first “reunion and retrospective” of the dolls both from the workshops and from Lynn’s personally created collection.

But this isn’t a doll party. It’s part of a Lynn’s Masters thesis work. I wanted to ask Lynn a little about this exhibition, about her work, and about the subject of dolls.


Katherine Sweetman   Tell me a little about the exhibition on January 21

Lynn Dewart      I have been facilitating a particular workshop using the figurative form as medium for deep play in the arts and tool for transformation based on my own experience with the form and process. A reunion of participants and their “dolls” has been discussed for some years. This exhibit represents work across that span of time and is held in conjunction with and celebration of the completion of my Master’s thesis on this work with the doll.

K.S.   The invite for the exhibition requests “dolls, stories and photos” from the public. What are you going to do with these?

L.D.    Any dolls made by participants in my workshops, any stories they wish to share about the work and perhaps photos of dolls not available in person will be on display for the public to view.

K.S.    What is your background with dolls? Why are dolls in particular something that you create?

L. D.    That is the opening heuristic story of my thesis. Briefly, in 1993 an important personal art experience helped to restructure my narrative. I had created a small doll representing myself, age of 14, after a specific trauma. The effects of the process were life-changing. I became fascinated by mythical and folkloric practices and cultures where dolls are recognized as tools not playthings. I have experienced firsthand the prejudice and limited perspective the western world has of the object “doll” and did not use that work in conjunction with my work for a long time.

The doll was my primary art form for many years, and I still return to it though in many varied configurations. I have made hundreds, from 4” to 5’ tall. They have sold in galleries, shows or online and are collected around the world.

K.S.    You are pursuing a Masters Degree in Expressive Arts Therapy, are the dolls part to this graduate degree?

L. D.    Yes, it is the subject of my thesis: The Art of The Doll – Doll as Tool For Transformation and Container For Narrative, a study of the process according to principles, practices and philosophies of Expressive Arts Therapy as taught at the Expressive Arts Institute of San Diego and the European Graduate School.

K.S.    I want to ask about Bone Girl Boxes. On your website, they are described as objects “Originally inspired by young maidens departed too soon.” Can you tell me more about these objects? 

A dear and longtime friend lost her daughter, just 14 years of age, to an angry driver running a stop sign at 90mph on the corner of the block where they lived. I thought then of making a doll out of bones I’d been collecting, but it wasn’t until 15 months later, when my niece, age 19, was killed by a drunk driver on I-15, that I did. The first art made after that was a small doll out of bones. Then I made a doll as shrine to my niece’s death in that car accident and then Bone Girl Music Boxed about each of the girls. I only made dolls out of bones, wood and found objects for a long while with a rare venture back into fabric until just last year.

"Red Shoes"

K.S.    The work of yours, that I’ve seen in person, that I am most attracted to are the Bone Dolls. Can you tell us a little about these dolls, what they are made of, what the process of making them is like?  Also, where do you get the bones?

L.D.    At first, the Bone Dolls came about as my response to death of those close to me. Their deaths caused me to reflected on just what are the marks we leave on this planet when we die. I saw that bones are basically all that remains physically so thought about what else do people leave behind.

The recent series “The Pall Bearers” deals with losses, perhaps tiny deaths, we suffer daily – lack of funds for arts education, jobs, and some other personal stories. I also make Bone Dolls of mythical and archetypal figures and even people I know and love. The first of a real person was in memory of Ottavio Cannestrelli, son of a local, prominent 8 generation circus family, who died tragically. I knew him from Fern Street Circus and made costumes for him. Others are of those still living: dear friends or colorful personalities that catch my eye.

I use bones of fish, fowl, beaver, deer, moose or elk. I have used lynx, wolf, beaver and other animal bones, too. I make my own molds and cast their heads or use old doll heads. I use wire and beads of glass, metal, wood or bone as joints and, as a costume designer, enjoy making their little costumes immensely. They are usually made in groups, like a family of sorts, not one at a time. It’s a bit of an assembly line as I make the parts then the bodies start to form themselves. Then the notion of who they are appears.

Initially, I collected odd bones here and there and some have been given to me. Some I still find myself or buy from a trader way up north.


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