‘My Sister’s Doll’ at Figureworks Gallery

W’burg gallery celebrates artist’s bizarre Christmas tradition

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Photo gallery

Babydoll: This charming doll sports a necklace of other small dolls.
Toy story: Artist Clarissa Crabtree with a doll she created for “My Sister’s Doll.”
Valley of the dolls: This life-size ceramic toddler is one of 50 dolls Jane Harris can select as her Christmas present this year.
Murder-dolls: Some of the works created for “My Sister’s Doll” are more disturbing than others.
You get a doll! And you get a doll! Everybody gets a doll!: This doll is modeled after Oprah.
Goo goo dolls: This doll might be hard to play with — it is sewn to a painting.

Talk about a toy story!

The director of a Williamsburg gallery is hosting an art exhibition featuring an eclectic collection of dolls lovingly handcrafted by 50 of his fellow artists. The show, entitled “My Sister’s Doll: Artists Respond to a Christmas Saga,” commemorates an error in judgement that the organizer’s father may never live down, he said.

“He’s 85 years old and we still torture him about it,” said Randall Harris, director at Figureworks Gallery.

The great mistake and inspiration for Harris’s art show occurred on Christmas Day 50 years ago, when Harris’s then 10-year-old sister, Jane, received a beautiful doll in a special-edition box. The gift should have cinched Christmas — and dad — as the best ever.

However, when Harris’s “less-privileged” cousins arrived later that day, the Harris family patriarch decided to re-gift Jane’s doll in an act of misguided charity, which left his daughter in tears.

“My mother was furious and my sister was heartbroken,” said Harris. “Christmas didn’t end well that year.”

To make amends, the 5-year-old Harris crafted Jane a makeshift doll out of discarded toilet-paper rolls. This act of sibling kindness sparked a yearly tradition and Harris has made, scavenged, or sought out a new doll for Jane every Christmas since.

This year, however, he has gone one step further, inviting 50 other artists to create a doll for his sister. Jane get to choose her favorite the show’s opening night on Nov. 14, and take home her favorite pick as an early Christmas present, Harris said.

“Whichever doll she likes best will be her gift this year,” he said. “I’ll try and steer her away from the more expensive ones.”

The artists, who hail from as far afield as Australia, have taken the show’s theme and run with it, each creating a doll that is interesting and unique, Harris said.

The submissions include a life-sized little girl made entirely out of ceramics, and a doll with another doll’s head sticking out of its stomach. And at least one artist has turned the theme on its head, crafting a book about the meaning of the word “doll,” according to Harris.

“When I asked my artists to participate, I had no idea how enthusiastically they would embrace this side-project or how cathartic it would be for so many,” said Harris. “Most artists have made direct connections to a similar family event that seeded lasting fond or troubled memories.”

“My Sister’s Doll: Artists Respond to a Christmas Saga” opening reception at Figureworks Gallery [168 N. Sixth St. between Bedford and Driggs avenues in Williamsburg, (718) 486–7021,]. Nov. 14 at 6 pm–9 pm, free. Show runs until Dec. 21.

Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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