Doll parts, folklore and mythology. A rogue taxidermy of sorts and cross-breeding of the unexpected. Teasing the viewer about the nature of identity and aliveness and how glorious it is to be daring. Affected by the characters from the darker side of children’s literature and fable, and inspired by sacred doll relationship, Stefanie Vega began creating assemblage art using dolls, skulls, and bones. She adds rhyming verse to tell the tales that influences the artwork.
Interview Meikee Magnetic
Where are you originally from and where do you reside now?
I am and have always been a child of the deep Underground Forest. The dark, faerie tale wood has always been my refuge as far back as I can remember. That is where I come from and where I perpetually return.
You mentioned that as a child, you would escape into a world of faerie stories. Open the page to one of those stories and share it with our readers:
One haunting tale that’s left the most profound impression on me was “The Nightingale and the Rose,” by Oscar Wilde. When I first read it, it just about killed me. Honestly, it broke open my heart at such an early age and left a scar that still aches to this day. It’s a touching homage to unconditional devotion, in which the Nightingale loves the poet so much that in an act of selflessness, impales herself on a thorn in order to create a red rose for him. Her sacrificial suffering and death goes unnoticed by the vain and selfish poet and the red rose she created with her life blood is cast to the wayside. It is the story of tragic irony.
Your rogue taxidermy, of sorts, with porcelain doll parts is so exquisitely delightful. Each doll has their own identity, is there a favorite identity that comes out more then others?
“The Handless Maiden” is a character I revisit in my work regularly. This story is so sad and sweet. In it we learn about ‘the Poor Bargain”. We discover the hidden costs we really have to pay when we give away too much. I have witnessed the ’poor bargain’ first hand on countless occasions in myself, and within so many others. The story is ultimately about reclaiming our lost intuition.
“The poor bargain is made when you don’t know your worth
And you give away more than you’ve been given at birth.
This bargain takes root before you give it much thought
Till you cringe with remorse when you see what you’ve bought.
From this wound comes a knowing that is part of the plan.
Although while you endure it you may not understand
That in a bargain with darkness lies a glimmer of light
For the wound is the price paid for a new kind of sight.”
My work, like the classic faerie tale, is about secrets and scars and how much we can endure. Quite often, our growth is the purpose of our pain. We are the authors of our own tragic tales and how we overcome misfortune is our most notable challenge. My work is heavily influenced by the wild-women archetypes in Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés and the universal concept of The Hero’s Journey, popularized by Joseph Campbell. Within these tales is a connective thread—one that weaves through generations of storytellers. They are the myths and magic of our imaginations and our most fundamental truths of the fragile human condition. The stories that weather time, familiar and profound in their message, are a respite to that time and place where fable holds a moral for the life experience.
What was your earliest inspiration that showed you the path to your craft?
The dolls I loved as a child were the keepers of my secrets. They were the vessels for all my hopes and fears. It wasn’t till just after my mother’s death, that a precious discovery would set the wheel of fate in motion. A journey through the boxes of my mother’s belongings yielded the treasure that spoke of the secrets kept by three generations of women in my family. In one of the boxes I found the old doll I had played with as a child. This fragile porcelain doll had been my mother’s cherished “toy friend” when she was a child during the depression, but it also had been my grandmother’s dear “dolly” when she was a child, around the turn of the twentieth century. In a streaming flash of memory, like a haunting lullaby, this doll serenaded me with all the secrets kept, so long forgotten. The dolls with which we played as children were the totems of our dreams. Before them we projected our greatest selves but when we discarded them, where did the energy go. Certainly a question to ponder… and I did. There has always been bird energy around me. I grew up in a brownstone in Brooklyn, and birds would fall down onto the pavement from the nests they had built in niches in the bricks of the buildings. As a child, I would try to heal the broken, nearly dead little birds that I found. I would attempt to breathe life back into them; and with a child’s faith, I always believed I could. Yet inevitably I was left with the little corpses of tiny dead things. This compelling love of birds was the direct result of the story of “The Nightingale and the Rose” and the haunting impression it left… and so, merging the doll and the bird into one character created a path for the shadow that follows me to this day.
Your creations each have a name, some even have their own habitats of themed architecture with a written poetic message. The imagination of an artist knows no boundaries, what is this mystical place of ideas you travel to for your inspiration?
I return again and again to the place of my birth… into the Underground Forest to explore the shadow side of myself. This is the place where I can begin to translate my own healing into the dolls’ stories. When I get out of my own way, I can find stillness. I can get quiet, and wait. Mornings seem to work best for me; that twilight place between wake and sleep where I am receptive to new information. I am walking through the dark forest and come upon that clearing I recognize like my mothers face. Through the brush lie the secret shallows… a pool of black ink. A dock stands balanced on the dark water… the fog is suspended over the slick surface. Sometimes the boat is waiting for me. Sometimes the veil of mist is lifting as the small vessel approaches… and sometimes all I can hear is the water lapping at the underside of the dock as I stand and wait. This is when I ask and listen.
“The Shadow casts light on a new kind of sight
for the eyes that see past what they fear…
And the dark will narrate a tale that has weight
for the ones who are willing to hear.”
So many elaborate details go into your work from dark fashionable clothing, hats, furniture, gadgets to accessories. It all goes hand in hand to give our eyes an instant transportation to the world of ‘Dollwerx’. How do people react to your work? Has anyone been genuinely scared from viewing it?
Of course. What a great question! More than once this has come up, so here is a poem:
“When you create from the heart, you inevitably start
work that’s not always accepted…
But you must do your part,
for the voice of the art
is where you and the gods are connected.”
True, dolls hold a bit of the energy from our childhood memories, but not everyone’s memories were sacred. Little did I realize that when I began working exclusively with dolls, not only was I embarking on my own personal journey, but that I was also inviting others experiential doll stories into the mix. Some of the stories I told with my dollies weren’t necessarily a welcome guest! This is when I began constructing the cages for the dolls, to keep them contained. Then, I began building boxes around them with little doors that one could close if they desired. I did notice, however, that when I added verse, there was a shift in people’s perception. It’s always been my objective to present my art as a vehicle to heal the wounded spirit, as opposed to creating work of a painful nature for the mere sake of macabre curiosity. Nevertheless, there will always be those who will be disturbed by my imagery. People often will tell me about their own dolly stories, and in many ways will contribute to my work. Interestingly, there is a theme I’ve heard more than once. Hence, this poem:
The Secrets Dolls Keep
“The watchful small doll will say nothing at all,
keeping secrets an age-old tradition.
Staying all to herself as she stands on her shelf,
she’s content with her present condition.
But…If you suspect your doll creeping
while everyone’s sleeping,
there’s a way you can prove your suspicion.
Make a mark on her shelf.
Keep this mark to yourself
and discover her secret ambition.
If she’s moved when you rise,
you’d be clever and wise
to enlist her in your secret mission.
And so it is told,
it’s the secrets they hold
that make dollies a welcome addition.”
You’re going to take ‘Dollwerx’ to Berlin, Germany for “Nightmare In Wonderland”. Please share with us more about this project:
The creative genius of Tim Burton is an inspiration to us all. Through his tales that portray the beautifully flawed persona, he encourages us to be courageous in the face of adversity. Over 100 artists were asked to participate in this tribute project. Using our own style and technique, the incredibly talented artist and videographer Ixie Darkonn challenged each of us to interpret a characters created by Burton. “The Nightmare in Wonderland” project is showing in a four part series. Galleries in the United States (Chicago/California) Canada and Germany are participating. I’ve chosen to re-create an obscure character I found in a little book called “The Tales of Oyster Boy”.
The PinCushion Queen
“There’s a hole in my heart where there used to be skin,
And despite all the warnings, I let you come in…
So now I am broken, and that is my sin.
If my fate is to suffer, then let it begin.”
Have you been approached by any musical artists to collaborate?
Not yet. Do you know any?? I certainly will entertain the possibility.
If you were to pick one person in history to make a creation in their image, who would it be?
My dolls portray characters that seem wise beyond their years. They possess a hidden knowing as they hold the space as the Keepers of universal truths and the Caretakers of Burden. The dolls I create are the amalgam of the many… the multitude of characters we all play at one time or another. I could no sooner choose one person as I could one star in the heavens. We are all inexplicably connected.
Let us know some of your future plans:
I am continually and tirelessly creating dolls that speak to me of the great dilemmas of my own life and my dearest friends or family… so my work will continue till I lay these bones into the earth. I am beginning to work with people who have inherited ‘family’ dolls. So often I hear that they feel obligated to take the doll, even though they may not like it or that it doesn’t speak to them. This is when I get to really dive into some uncharted waters and transform the doll into an effigy that will hold their own specific story. After in depth discussion, I create a Caretaker of their own personal burden. I love this challenge. I am currently shopping a publisher for “A Doll’s Book of Secrets”… a book of haunting photos of the dolls with accompanying verse. It will be the first “lock & key” hardcover book to present a complete collection of my original art.
What does Dark Beauty mean to you?
It is the deepest, most mysterious place… the authentic dark field. It celebrates our most precious flaws that contribute to the depth of our identity, allowing us to see the beauty in our wounds. The exquisite scars in our character are the proof that we have lived though a great something. Only when we are able to embrace our hurts can we begin to tenderly shine the light on the shadow self, our own dark beauty.
“When we loosen the hold
On all the stories we’re told,
We’ll recall the lost tales we forgot…
The authentic dark field
Is no longer concealed,
And we feel what is real and what’s not.”