R. John Wright
Naturally artistic, R. John Wright always felt his path would lead to a creative career. Born in Michigan, John attended Wayne State University in a liberal arts program with an emphasis on art and literature. Following college, John traveled to New England and settled in New Hampshire. While browsing in a bookstore, John came across a deluxe large-format art book The Doll authored by Carl Fox. Filled with photographs of antique dolls, one photo in particular caught his attention: a Steiff schoolroom with early Steiff children dolls seated at desks. John was very inspired by this photograph, and having recently made the acquaintance of porcelain dollmaker, Gail Wilson, he began to contemplate the possibility of a career in dollmaking. Two years later he met his future wife and creative partner, Susan - a recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. Little did she suspect that her meeting with John would soon redirect her talents and destiny to doll making. The couple settled in Brattleboro, Vermont in 1974.
In 1976, when he was abruptly laid off from his job as a clerk in the town hardware store, John decided to try his hand at dollmaking. That afternoon he began to sew a crude figure - his first doll - out of the only fabric at hand, a piece of pale yellow flannel. John had never sewn anything before, but this first effort seemed to hold much potential. Before the first doll was completed, John was already thinking of the improvements he would make on the second one.
Within a few weeks of having lost his job, John made a group of six similarly constructed male dolls out of flesh-colored felt. These dolls featured rudimentary rustic-style clothing and sheep's wool hair and beards. Floppy Dolls He took these first dolls to Serkin's Craft Gallery which was located in downtown Brattlebroro. The owner, John Serkin (son of famed pianist Rudolph Serkin) purchased the first six R. John Wright dolls on-the-spot for the price of $14 apiece. That same day, the dolls sold retail for $28 each and a re-order was placed. During the next six months, John personally made and sold over a hundred of these primitive felt dolls to area craft stores. Susan soon began to help John with the production and together they embarked on an intense period of research and development to improve the dolls. Within six months the dolls advanced beyond the primitive "floppy" stage and included joints and more sophisticated construction and detailing.
Working now as a creative team, the couple's doll enterprise soon overtook their small, ground-floor Brattleboro apartment turned makeshift doll factory. Exhibition in prestigious juried craft shows throughout New England provided expanding wholesale and retail orders for the dolls. The Wrights soon began hiring assistants to come and help with the ever-increasing work load. Inspired by the early molded cloth dolls of the Kathe Kruse company in Germany and the molded felt dolls made by the Italian Lenci company in the 1920s, the couple embarked on a mission to re-invent long-lost techniques to provide the Wright dolls with molded fabric faces. One year after making his first doll, John sculpted the faces which would become the first molded felt dolls from R. John Wright. In 1978, the Character Dolls were introduced. Their sculptural, hand painted faces and detailed costumes and accessories, brought a new level of sophistication to the work.
The delightful Little Children Series premiered in 1981 around the time of the arrival of the Wright's first child, Lillian. The gentle childlike dolls introduced a completely new look from R. John Wright and the demand from collectors increased exponentially. In the early 1980's, the Wright's relocated across the border to Cambridge, New York. Soon after, the doll operation was moved out of the Wright household and into a Victorian professional building. A larger work force was hired and trained, and specialized machinery was developed to meet increased production demands.
1985 was a milestone year for R. John Wright Dolls, Inc. The company exhibited for the first time at International Toy Fair in New York City. At this show, Christopher Robin & Winnie-the-Pooh was shown under a newly-acquired license with the Walt Disney Company to develop a line of "Classic Pooh" products. Over the next decade the animal characters from the Hundred Acre Wood and numerous editions of Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh were added to the collection.
The following years brought a succession of many captivating child dolls as well as licensed characters from classic Disney films including: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; Pinocchio; Mickey and Minnie Mouse; and Cinderella.
BEATRIX POTTER SERIES
In 1998, R. John Wright introduced Peter Rabbit, the first in an extensive collection based on the delightful animal characters in the famous Beatrix Potter books. Among them was the Mouse Tailor - the first of a long and continuing line of RJW mice characters.
Continuing a tradition of dolls and animal characters from classic children's literature, the company also produced dolls based on Antoine de Saint Exupery's beloved Little Prince; Michael Bond's Paddington Bear, a delightful rendition of Curious George, France's own Becassine, and Rose O'Neil's adorable Kewpies.
BACK TO VERMONT
In 2004 R. John Wright Dolls returned to Vermont moving their innovative and enterprising company to an idylic 17-acre setting on the outskirts of historic Bennington. Among the early productions begun at the new facility was the Alice in Wonderland Series based on Lewis Carroll's immortal characters from the 'Alice' books. The company also continued with an important all-American series based on the Raggedy Ann characters created by Johnny Gruelle.
THE STEIFF KINDER
In 2007, the story came full-circle with the introduction of a delightful series of dolls based on the antique Steiff children dolls which inspired R. John Wright in the very beginning: The Steiff Kinder. In 2008-9, more R. John Wright dolls from classic children's literature included: the Palmer Cox Brownies; and Edith, the Lonely Doll.
Cicely Mary Barker's enchanting Flower Fairies premiered in 2009 which also marked the year of the first R. John Wright Convention.
2012 & 2013
In 2012, R. John Wright Dolls presented the first renditions in felt of the famous Patsy and Skippy dolls from the 1930s. Adding to the RJW animal characters is the delightful Toddler Bears series of cubs in vintage-style children's clothing. "Willoughby", the first in a series of RJW Classic Teddys, was introduced at the end of the year. 2013 ushered in the first of a nostalgic collection of licensed dolls based on the famed Hummel figurines. The fifth-annual RJW Convention brought several dolls based the theme of the Four Seasons. The first of an exciting series of RJW Kittens, Snowball, was introduced at the end of 2013.
2014 & Beyond
Several doll and animal editions will be added to various ongoing collections this year. The acclaimed Wizard of Oz series advances in 2014 with the production of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. Upcoming projects include dolls from the beloved children's book Where the Wild Things Are - furthering the tradition of RJW dolls based on classic children's literature. The Wrights continue to oversee all phases of production, always stressing the highest quality materials, finest craftsmanship, and integrity of design, which for over thirty-five years have formed the cornerstone of R. JOHN WRIGHT DOLLS.