Handmade Dolls, Not Just for Kids, a Fanciful Addition to Tuckerton Emporium

By PAT JOHNSON | Aug 15, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson ‘Tea-totaler’ by doll artist Kathleen Francis.

The delight of playing with dolls as a child is re-created for those collecting handmade, fanciful creations by art doll artists from all over the world. A short scroll through Etsy, an online shopping space for artsy crafts, shows the scale of the collectible art doll market. There are a slew of magazines devoted to doll crafts, and top artists can command hundreds if not thousands of dollars for their handiwork.

Fantasy and fairy tales are heavily represented in what’s on offer. These are not for children to play with, but for collectors to look at, live with, and love as objets d’art.

Kathleen Francis is a doll artist whose fairies and “Tea-totaler” ladies are on display in The Shoppes at The Tuckerton Emporium, which she owns and runs with her husband, Charlie. The couple took over the unique cooperative gift shop Tuckerton Emporium in April; it had been run by the Kumpels for 25 years. The building, built in the 1920s, was originally a general store known as Gerbers’. The Francises are no strangers to retail businesses; they created the Apple Tree Cottage shop on South Green Street in Tuckerton in the late 1990s. They sold that business, and the cottage is now a private home.

Charlie Francis is a dry wall contractor and has many plans for dressing up the front of the building, plans that he has already started with a fresh coat of paint. Still coming are the distinctive calligraphy sign and a sailing ship mural plus corbels and columns.

“You can’t hope for a better start,” said Kathleen of the business. “Our vendors are wonderful.”

Most of the 30 vendors in the building have stayed during the change of hands, but Kathleen has added her own whimsical touches to the décor, including her fairy dolls and Tea Garden Shop.

“I’ve been making dolls, starting with the fairies, since 2007. They are made from composite materials and recycled fabrics with some new fabrics and found objects.”

For her Tea Garden shop, she explained, she created a legend of a woman in Tuckerton she named “Miss Lydia Swann, who founded the Tea Garden in 1887, dedicated to the founding ladies of the ‘Tea-totalers’ and their meetings to discuss the benefits of tea and the art of beautiful homes and gardens.” The “Tea-totalers” are a new series of dolls that are selling fast, she said. All of her creations are Ooak dolls (one of a kind).

The Francises live in the Nugentown section of Little Egg Harbor and have two houses. One is kept almost as a museum of Colonial times, complete with a collection of spinning wheels and Shaker-style wood furnishings; the other is set deep in the woods with bridges and fairy huts hidden amongst the laurel and oaks. Their love for the outdoors led them to create “Wudwych Furniture” from branches scavenged from forest areas.

“I love the autumn with all the colors of the leaves and the winter. I come alive then,” said Kathleen.

For the upcoming Halloween and fall season, twisted wood branches have been made into decorative brooms out of straw, Sweet Annie or lavender. She has created another series, of benevolent witches that are paired with lanterns or children.

But fairies were her first and eternal love. “I’ve never seen them, but I feel them. I’m what you would call clairsentient.”

The care and keeping of her fairies is not complicated. “Leave them alone; let them do their own thing. Maybe use a small, soft brush to dust them. They are a very good presence in a house.”

The Shoppes at The Tuckerton Emporium has started gearing up for fall with some hand-made Halloween decorations. “After Labor Day we should be all ready – new things are coming in every day. There is something here for everyone.”

And you are never alone if you have a house fairy or two. Don’t expect them to do the dishes – but they can be blamed for hiding your keys.


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