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.
THE COMPANY BEGINS First Doll
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.
PRODUCTION GROWS Paddy & Kate
Working now as a creative team, the couple's doll enterprise soon overtook their small, ground-floor Brattleboro apartment turned makeshift doll factory. 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.