ABINGDON, Va. — A must-see exhibit that caught the attention of festivalgoers last summer is returning to Abingdon.

Nancy Dufrenne, who has ties to Southwest Virginia, will travel from her home in Gex, France, to Abingdon to exhibit her fine art dolls during the 2019 Virginia Highlands Festival.

Her loveable, needle-sculpted doll exhibit, “Magic & Mischief,” will be held July 26 through Aug. 2 at Shady Business at 180 E. Main St. in town. An opening reception is 5 to 8 p.m. on July 26, and a closing reception is 5 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 2.

“I’m cranking it up a notch this year,” said the artist during an interview via FaceTime from her home near Geneva, Switzerland. Dufrenne has packed 30 of her one-of-a-kind creations that will travel with her to the United States next week.

The artist affectionately calls her handmade doll collection “Cupboard Creatures,” inspired by the 24 cupboards in her home in France that are chock-full of fabrics and sewing supplies, many of which have been gifted to her.

She recently learned how to make her dolls from dry clay, a technique she learned from a dollmaker with the National Institute of American Doll Artists, and she has begun to work with porcelain as a medium.

Her imagination is as vibrant and creative as the dolls she fashions from her skillful hands.

Because the artist has a knack for making amazing things with recycled materials, every doll is unique.

“To take a piece of fabric and create a name and a story — I think that’s what people like,” said Dufrenne, who sells her doll creations at By the Bay Alpacas, a shop on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Her dolls at the Abingdon exhibition will also be for sale.

Her artistic dolls incorporate old spools, frames, bed legs, silks and laces, not to mention lots of personality.

Her inspiration comes from children’s books, nursery rhymes and even fun sayings.

“It’s unlimited, the things you can make. It’s just so much fun.”

Dufrenne, a native of Lynchburg, has lived in France for more than 30 years.

Her quest to make dolls began when Dufrenne visited antique stores in France to shop for old dolls.

“I bought old dolls and took them apart to fix them. The felt would be moth-eaten, or the eyes would be missing. I started fixing dolls, and that’s when I realized I could make them with beautiful materials that will last longer.”

Using the sewing skills she mastered from her grandmother as a child, Dufrenne expanded her artistry by learning to use a long, thin needle to sculpt the features on the doll’s faces. She also uses pastel pencils to create expressions on the fabric doll faces.

The artist uses a variety of self-taught skills to make the dolls. “I sew, embroider, weave and felt and needle-sculpt with vintage and antique silks, linens, laces, braids and alpaca and wool fibers. I repurpose all types of materials to create unique stories that often represent my personal journey,” she said.

One of her dolls, “Gerance the Dancer,” wears a wet-felted skirt of wool, silk and alpaca. Her needle-felted body is supported by a wire armature, and her head and hands are made from air-dry clay.

“‘Beam Me Up Scotty’ has a cloth body, upcycled clothes and [an] air-dry clay face and hands,” she said, describing one of her favorite creations.

The “Strangely Alice” doll sits on a mushroom carousel full of fairy creatures.

Some of her work is designed to make a statement about social justice and animal rights.

“‘Dancing Bear’ is a wire armature, fully articulated cloth body covered in an upcycled mink stole. With this doll, I am protesting the use of animals in the circus,” Dufrenne said.

Not only are her dolls fun to display, they also speak to the hearts of her customers.

“One young woman bought a sail boat made from a shoe with an old lady in it. The customer happened to be a gerontologist,” said Dufrenne.

“A radiologist bought a breast cancer awareness doll I made. And another customer was quick to purchase a doll that reminded her of Louise Bourgeois, a French-American artist known for her giant spiders. She had just visited a museum exhibit of Bourgeois’ work in Los Angeles.”

Prices for dolls, most of them 15 inches tall, range from $125 to $400.

Shady Business is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call 276-356-1674 or visit www.shadybusiness.net.

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Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at news@washconews.com.

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