Whimsical wood sculptures by artist Joe Derr
  • Bronze sculptures of Laszlo Ispanky
  • The art of turning pieces of metal into sculptures
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    Auction Finds

    Whimsical sculptures from old doll heads & tins

    I had only just arrived at the crafts festival, on the lookout for that unique something-something that would wow me. I had dipped into one vendor’s space after another – not lingering, just glancing and moving on.

    Then I approached a booth with old German composition doll heads sitting atop vintage tins and doll feet. I instantly recognized the heads as ones I had seen or purchased at auction. They had the patina of paint loss on both the faces and molded hair, lending to their authenticity.

    The items willed me to stop and I did so without hesitation, knowing that I would park myself there for a little while. These delightful sculptures waylaid me at the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival outside Philadelphia, where more than 250 artisans were selling items from jewelry to clothes (I bought a gorgeous “lined” blue wool hat by Jes Irie Wear and almost bought a lovely wind chime from Old Town Wind Bells), pottery, wood and metal carvings, and much much more.

    Primitive Twig doll head sculpture

    Doll-head sculptures by Marcia and Bill Finks.

    The doll pieces were obviously one of a kind; each was alike but so different. I just had to know more about them and their maker.

    The folks behind these fantastic nostalgic pieces were Marcia and Bill Finks, former Flint, MI, residents who were now living in New York. They opened their business Primitive Twig around 1989, according to a company bio sheet Bill handed to me.

    “I always thought I wanted us to have something where we would work together all the time,” Bill said. “She’s the designer. She’s great with color. I do the assembly.”

    Primitive Twig doll head sculpture

    The mid-section of the doll sculptures shows the array of tins and toys used to create them.

    He was manning the booth alone. That was his job while Marcia was out looking for stuff for their doll creations. In fact, they go out pretty often hunting for vintage tins, doll heads, glassware, lamp parts and more at junk stores, estate sales and flea markets all over the world. Or they may get a call from a picker who has something they might be able to use.

    “Our figures have a lasting quality to them,” Marcia said in the bio sheet. “I have a big pile of tins, doll heads, arms and legs and I pick out pieces that I think will connect. The purpose is to take random parts and create something whole.”

    They sell their wares to stores and galleries, including Bergdorf Goodman in New York (“Go to the seventh floor,” I overhead Bill tell a visitor. “There’s a whole section.”). The shop Anthropologie carries their lamps, several of which were displayed in the booth. The lamps sell for nearly $300, and the doll sculptures can go much higher (he pointed out one that was selling for $850).

    Primitive Twig doll head sculpture

    A vintage toy telephone rounds out this sculpture.

    Their pieces have been featured on two TV shows – CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother (current)” and Fox’s “Party of Five (now canceled),” according to the bio sheet. The artwork also has been featured in such magazines as House and Garden, Newsweek, Elle Décor and Martha Stewart Living.

    “We find something every single day,” he said of their hunting-for-stuff trips. “I’m not exaggerating. Every day. It’s our passion. We love what we do. It’s not work. It’s what we love.”

    Bill and Marcia both seemed to have always had an artistic bent: While he was working on the corporate side of Sears, he produced wood carvings, and Marcia was a writer and a homemaker, and was taking college classes. Then he lost his job of more than 20 years.

    Primitive Twig doll head sculpture

    Some shorter table-top sculptures.

    “I came home and told my wife that I had lost my job,” he recalled. “She said what are you going to do. I told her I’ll take all of the junk in the garage and make something out of it. We had a brand new house, a car and no money.”

    They started out with junk metal that he welded and sculpted, Bill said. “There was this stuff that started coming out of us,” he said.

    Some 20 years later, they got into doll-head sculptures, creating customized pieces from found objects. “It was like a natural transition,” he said. “I sculpted heads out of clay (for the original creations). They were really really amazing. Very raw, very primitive but they had a realistic factor to them. I said what about using old doll heads instead.”

    Primitive Twig doll head sculpture

    These small doll sculptures have porcelain heads.

    The booth at Sugarloaf also had some smaller doll sculptures attached to a wall. Most were the heads and feet of German porcelain dolls, and they, too, were just as beautiful but compact.

    My auction buddy Janet and I loved the pieces so much that we asked Bill if they created sculptures using black doll heads. They did, he said, but once those were set out on the tables, they were immediately snapped up. That wasn’t surprising to me because early black dolls are hard to find and black memorabilia sells.

    Bill told the story of getting a phone call from someone with the movie company of a famous director who was shooting a film. The company wanted him to loan a black-doll sculpture to use in a storefront window on the set. The producers didn’t have any money to buy it or rent it, Bill said they told him. That deal was never consummated.

    Primitive Twig doll head sculpture

    The legs of the doll sculptures.The second one from the right is moving.

    Because the Finks’ sculptures are made out of found objects, they could’ve taken on a Frankenstein feel, but they did not. These were no macabre creations (even though Bill demonstrated that the legs do move). These were works of art that were amazing.

    So amazing that Janet and I wondered why we couldn’t envision what Bill and Marcia saw in putting doll heads and tins together. We come across the same pieces at auction all the time – apart from each other on different tables – but in our mind’s eye, we never connected the two.

    Where does the vision come from? we wondered. I asked Bill about it, but there was no easy answer. Some folks got it – it’s inherent, I believe – and some don’t. I mentioned to Janet that our talent may be in the writing, which is an art form in itself.

    Primitive Twig doll head sculpture

    This Primitive Twig doll head sculpture also featured glassware.

    “I see both of us as artists,” Bill said. “Marcia is an excellent writer.” She has written a children’s book whose proceeds go a program in Des Moines, IA, that helps abused women and children, he said.

    “We feel very fortunate,” he said. “Not a lot of people can say that.”


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    1. love your work would like to purchase one where can I find them??

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