Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Where is Waldorf?

I published these words previously (June 2011) in a Note on my FB fan page. Then I forgot where I had left this article. I honestly believed I had written this article for my blog. Since these words are still very important to me, I wanted to repeat them here.

"When I look at the assortment of dolls that are labeled "Waldorf" on various websites these days I am always amazed. It looks like people are more and more getting away from the original idea of Waldorf. What is that idea?

The two main thoughts behind waldorf style toys, I would say, are: Simplicity and Nature.

I have been making dolls in the Waldorf tradition for over 10 years now. It is an old tradition of making cloth dolls developed in Germany, where Waldorf Schools were started in 1919. According to the Waldorf philosophy, dolls should be made from what nature has given us: natural fibers such as sheep's wool, yarn, and cotton.
The dolls have a unique inner head construction which gives form but not detail to the face. The dolls have very simple features, sometimes no features at all. Strict followers of the Waldorf education principles believe that giving too much detail in a toy stifles a child's imagination. When a doll's face is left blank the owner has to fill in the doll's expression. The child fills in whether the doll is happy or sad. If there was a permanent smile painted on the dolls face, it would be hard for the child to imagine a sad doll.

When I encountered my first Waldorf doll I was instantly in love with it. How was it possible that a doll this simple was so beautiful? How could it be that something so basic held such great attraction to a child and the child in me?
It was a doll made by a mom for her own child. The doll had a simple line for a mouth and two dots for eyes. Her clothes were equally simple. She had a plain dress withouth any thrills. It was simple to put on and take off for the child.The doll was warm, soft, and huggable.

I instantly knew that this was the kind of toy I wanted to give to my own children. I made my first doll and gave it to my daughter on her first birthday 12 years ago.

When I look around at the wide array of dolls sold as "Waldorf style" these days, it makes me kind of cringe. Often I see dolls that are not made of natural fibers at all. Some people stuff their dolls with fiberfill or use synthetics like soft minky fabric for the baby dolls bodies. I see noses big and small, sculpted faces with chins, and protruding lips. I see eyebrowes, dimples, freckles, belly buttons, fingers, toes, and rainbow colored sparkly hair.

I am not saying that these types of cloth dolls who have lots of details are not beautiful in their own right. Many of them I find quite amazing. I find myself in awe about how realistic and lifelike some of them look. I would call them art dolls rather than waldorf style.

Does the simpler kind of doll without a nose or ears somehow strike people as crippled or incomplete? Does my little business have to give in to fads in order to survive? In a market that is totally oversaturated I find myself compromising because I have learned that dolls with a nose sell about 10 times faster while the traditional baby will linger on the virtual storeshelf forever.

Hmmm. What was the original idea? Are you able to fill in the blank and make your imagination soar? If your answer is yes, you may prefer my kind of doll.

My ultimate goal is to promote the love for the more traditional type of doll. It's a constant struggle between the need to insure the survival of my business versus preserving the original idea of Waldorf - and wanting to stay true to my German roots. I want each doll to be sweet and simple like that first doll I created for my own child.

So I'll keep creating what is in my mind the "essence of doll".

If you would like to learn more about the Waldorf movement, please read here:


DaffodilAngel said...

You make some very important comments there and I certainly would want to have the more organic waldorf/steiner doll if I were receiving one. In fact I am hoping to make a doll very soon and will be following the wonderful Maricristin Sealey's book on how to make waldorf dolls.

germandolls said...

That's a great book. Have fun!

lollyknits said...

I think you're right!

Originally, Steiner demonstrated the "best" doll by taking his pocket handkerchief and folding it into a dolly with head, a knot for a body, and knots for arms & legs, and two ink-blobs for eyes. (see Child's Changing Consciousness and also Kingdom of Childhood - both by Rudolf Steiner) Even the simplest little rag doll would be more elaborate than Steiner recommended.

I suppose it's because we (parents) are buying dolls for our children, and we've spent so many years seeing Disney Princesses and Barbies, so that we think the more elaborate the better. (Often our children are in the same unfortunate place.)

I like simple things and tried to cultivate that in my children. The world will bring it's harsh ungentleness soon enough. I wanted life to be gentle and simple and beautiful for as long as possible.

Aimee B said...

I love the traditional Waldorf style doll with all my heart. I am glad, however, that there are dollmakers that can appeal to families that do not embrace Waldorf philosophy, so that their children are exposed to handmade natural dolls, at whatever level they can appreciated them.

I think that this "fad" will eventually fade, and there will only be the more traditional dollmakers left. Keep doing what you love!

germandolls said...

Very good point Aimee! Anything handmade is better than a plastic doll. I think it's good that our art has gotten such a boost and people are more interested in buying natural dolls.

MuddyFeet said...

I agree that many of the dolls, while not true Waldorf style dolls, can serve an important function as a bridge leading from the more commercial toys to the more natural, simpler ones. I do not think there is a black and white line between Waldorf and not, more of a color gradient. Just as there are a variety of doll styles, there are a variety of children to love them!

Having said that, I do cringe a bit when I see some of the things being labeled Waldorf. Polyfil, acrylic felt and yarn, neon colors, and loads of details are pushing it a bit too far for my definition!

Your dolls are beautiful just the way they are - sweet and simple!

germandolls said...

Awesome comment, my friend. I like the idea of the bridge. Yes, I guess what I find most troubling is the polyfill and some very plasticky fabrics. It's of a great concern to me make things that don't pollute and are a burden on the environment if the toy ever breaks. Hopefull though my dolls last for generations.

Monkeys and Angels said...

I love your dolls! When I first started looking into Waldorf style dolls, your shop was one of the first that caught my eye. Eventually I hope to order one from you. right now there are so many different styles of dolls that are being sold as Waldorf, but I think much of the reason is that such a variety of natural materials available in an array of colors! I found that my daughter, who is 7, prefers the more natural style of Waldorf dolls. she says the "big hair" that many of the dolls have gets in her way. but many little girls prefer the "big hair". I just love the fact that I am seeing more and more handmade items available. keep doing what you are doing with your dolls. There is still a want for a more natural approach to waldorf dolls..after all, a girl can't have too many dolls!