Cyndi Mahlstadt is a mixed-media doll artist, teacher, and self-avowed “lover of rusty things”. I’m pleased to have her as one of the All Dolls Are Art faculty. She’s teaching two classes, Annie (first picture below) and Treasure Keeper (second picture). If you are interested in either of her classes, please go to the conference website, www.alldollart.com, for more information.
AD: Hi Cyndi! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me! First, let me ask how long you’ve been making dolls?
CM: Hi Amy. It’s difficult to pinpoint when I started making dolls. But, to give you a number, I’d say about fifteen years. It has been a bit of an evolutionary journey for me. Creativity has always been a part of my life in one way or another. While growing up I was always making little creative bits with my mom or grandma (sewing, embroidery, crocheting, and creative recycling). In 1994 I started making and selling little handmade Christmas tree ornaments and tree toppers. Then I started slowly adding new critters to the mix like bunnies, and cats. When the angels and fairies arrived, that’s when doll making became an active part of my creative life!
AD: What led you to start creating your own dolls?
CM: It was the inspiration of recycling that inspired me to make what I consider my first doll. Believe it or not….it was a big pile of sticks, literally! One day we pruned a great-big-old tree in our back yard, and when we finished, we were left with oodles of long, straight, beautiful twigs. They were way too pretty to send to the recycling heap. The beautiful twigs became arms and legs for my first doll which was a “Garden Angel”. I wanted my angel to have a pretty cloth face but wasn’t quite sure the best way to do this. So, I went to the internet to do a bit of research because after all you can find anything on the internet. Oh my gosh! There was a whole world of people out there who love to make dolls, and people who design patterns and teach doll making! Who knew? The inspiration I found forever changed my life.
AD: Isn’t it fabulous how something so serendipitous can lead you to a new passion? You have such a distinctive style. What other media do you work in?
CM: I like to dabble…. whatever catches my fancy at the time, that’s what I like to play with; wire, clay, paper, fabric, goopy stuff, rusty stuff, the list goes on and on! Recently I was given the nick name ”Rusty Patina” because I adore anything rusty. Although, I must say, there is something really special about the “softness” of fabric and it remains a constant feature in almost all of my dolls or creative endeavors.
AD: Even when you work with rusty stuff, your creatures have such a soft look to them. Where do you find your inspiration?
CM: I’m a bit selfish when it comes to inspiration. I like it when my creations make me feel good. But I do feel quite satisfied when other people enjoy my creations, and they make them feel good too. So to actually answer the question…I’d say that my inspiration comes from things I enjoy. My garden and nature are inspirations. There are so many textures and colors, and the way plants and flowers grow are so stimulating. I love bugs, frogs, and snakes too. I also love silly quirky things, anything that makes me giggle inside.
AD: The quirky, giggle-inducing inspiration certainly shows in some of your critters! Do your dolls speak to you?
CM: Most definitely! For me it is more of a feeling or lack of feeling. When “the doll is speaking to me” I get into what I call a “creative frenzy”. Time evaporates, my work space blows up, and I end up with a special little critter that nearly comes to life before my eyes. I love it when that happens. Then there are times when the “creative frenzy” never comes, and I’m doing a lot more talking than my creation. So, I usually set it aside until I can do a better job of listening.
AD: Oh how I resemble the “work space blowing up” remark! Do you allow your dolls to lead you through your creative frenzy or do you lead them?
CM: To tell you the truth, it ends up being a mixed bag. I absolutely prefer and enjoy the purest of times when a seed of inspiration is planted and it takes on a life of its own, and a new little critter is born. But sometimes there are situations where it is a combination of both me and the creation. For example there may be certain details or constraints that I need to consider while working because the creation may be a commissioned piece, or will ultimately become a workshop or pattern.
AD: Do you have an idea of what dolls you would like to make next?
CM: I do have a list of ideas. In fact it’s long list. Quite often I’ll have random inspirations for a new critter or project and I write them down so I don’t forget. Is that what I’ll be working on next? Probably not. It’s funny, usually the projects that get done are the ones that hit my brain, drag me to my studio, the creative frenzy hits, and presto-magico there’s creation! I do try to be faithful to my list though. When I’m feeling a bit creatively dry, it helps me get the creative juices flowing again.
AD: You are a fantastic teacher! What do you like most about teaching?
CM: The excitement of my students is what I enjoy. When you have a group of creative minds together it is exhilarating! I love it!
AD: This seems to be a theme shared by all gifted teachers. Any advice for other doll artists?
CM: Keep playing! Keep experimenting! Don’t take yourself too seriously! Enjoy!
AD: Thanks Cyndi! I can’t wait to see you again in Austin!