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Be a Doll: Christine Alvarado's creations are hardly toys...and they aren't always smiling 

Artist and doll-maker Christine Alvarado lifts the lid of a sturdy box, then a layer of bubble wrap like she's gently peeling a blanket from

click to enlarge dolls800wi.jpg
Artist and doll-maker Christine Alvarado lifts the lid of a sturdy box, then a layer of bubble wrap like she's gently peeling a blanket from a sleeping child. Staring up is a delicate creature - Brighid, Bride to the Wind - dressed in a white paper gown with a veil of paper dragonflies surrounding her face. Brighid was inspired by an assignment of sorts, an online community challenge to illustrate the Four Elements through the creation of a doll.

Doll making is a long-lived tradition, with endless cultural connotations. For many artists and collectors dolls are a sophisticated form, more sculpture than toy. Alvarado, who has been developing her art and selling her dolls for the last two years, has taken the tradition and infused it with her own unique perspective. She has chronicled the process on her art blog, Du Buh Du
Designs (dubuhdudesigns.typepad.com) while exclusively selling her dolls on the online marketplace Etsy. Alvarado's work has evolved with clever themes and details. And while the creations are lovely, Alvarado's subtly dark sense of humor gives them a slightly edgy air.

"People ask me sometimes why isn't she smiling?"

To which Alvarado responds: why does she have to be?

"I'm interested in the ones that are kind of glancing sideways, like she's thinking something, and she isn't gonna tell you," says Alvarado.

Christine expands on the personalities of her dolls, which are beautifully frocked in hand sewn, "Anthropologie-style clothes." Looking down at her own simple black shirt, Christine laughs and says, "I dress vicariously through them."

Du Buh Du Designs synthesizes all aspects of Alvarado's background, utilizing her photography and graphic design degrees, and also allowing trial runs for ideas that will manifest in the future, like a book form of the shots staged to illustrate the dolls. The blog is also a way for her to share her influences, from the music playing in her studio to the artists that inspire her, as well as the numerous online art community fundraisers and causes she's involved in, like sending fabric scraps to Iraqi women.

"My creative process isn't linear at all," says Alvarado, gesturing with her hands in a circular path when I ask where she comes up with those clever touches that define her dolls.

There's a group of dolls carrying tiny animal-faced party masks, another hand-made gilded lanterns, another beaded parasols. They have precocious names such as Tallulah and Laudine. They've traveled to tea parties in hand-made gypsy caravans and hot air balloons. They've been depicted as art students showing tiny self portraits. While each set of dolls ends up with a unique story, which Christine documents through elaborate photo shoots on her blog with the help of her equally creative husband Mark. They don't start out as distinct personalities. Using polymer clay, Alvarado forms the busts, arms and legs, letting each one develop organically through the process of sanding and painting, adding hair, connecting the limbs with wire armature, and finally adding the intricate details, like a tiny blue-bird tattoo on one doll's arm, giving each creation a personality.

In addition to a following on Etsy, Alvarado's dolls are now appearing in galleries around the country. Her latest participation is with a gallery in Southern California that's hosting an annual show of work inspired by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, whose likeness Alvarado has depicted with her dolls.

"I don't want it to be a portrait of Frida, but more of her spirit," she says. The last manifestation of Frida shows her as an old woman, beautifully wrinkled, holding a marionette of her younger self in one hand, and a Frida-headed dove in the other. Every detail of this piece is thoughtfully inspired by the life of the artist. Alvarado has clearly done her research. A common theme expressed in the Frida dolls, as well as her other creations, is a no-nonsense kind of humanist romanticism and determination, qualities that reflect the artist.

When asked in what direction her work will take her next, Christine gives a quick laugh and a sideways glance. She's thinking something, and she isn't gonna tell... yet.

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