In July 2006, I attended the United Federation of
Doll Clubs Convention in my hometown, Dallas,
When and what inspired you to begin making dolls
and how long have you been making them?
"I teach woodworking at Westchester High School in Los Angeles, California. I carved my first doll quite by accident; trying to show students that you could create objects of beauty from wood without spending much money. I used a peg-jointed doll in McCall's Magazine as my subject for this lesson in 1978."
Are you self-taught, or have you received formal training in doll
"I am self-taught in doll making. I learned some wood carving in college."
What is your preferred medium and why was that medium chosen?
"Wood is my medium of choice. Carving wood is therapy for me. Woodworking is my hobby and my passion."
In the May
1994 Floyd Bell Scholarship Fund-Raiser Weekend Extravaganza One-Man Doll
Show & Exhibition (FBSFWEOMDS&E) program booklet, Floyd
writes, "What a privilege to work with a medium I love--wood. The touch, the feel and the smell of wood is a sensual delight
in itself. To sculpt in wood is so calming and relaxing; it can be
compared only to a sedative."
Carved from walnut are L-R: 24-in grandmother and child; 28 and 26-in African "Woodobie" Tribesman and woman
Do you work in other mediums?
"Yes, I sculpt with clays such as Super Sculpey."
According to Doll Artists at Work, Volume One, page 2, by Kathleen Ryan, Infodial, 1995, "Though known best for his one-of-a-kind ethnic and historical dolls carved in wood, [Floyd] has ventured into porcelain and bronze as well."
12-in Lakers have Super Sculpey heads and wood bodies
Do you focus on one type of doll or
do you create a variety of genders or age groups?
"I like to create dolls that put their focus on positive images, usually in groups. The first group of dolls made in 1978 were peg-jointed wooden dolls. I made 10 dolls the first year. My American Heritage series featured strong Black figures -- Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass... I have a great limited edition of Matthew Henson. His clothes were made in Alaska by Native Alaskans. The fur skins are hand sewn into beautiful parkas, mukluks and gloves. There are 10 dolls in the edition. I have sold six. There are about 20 different dolls in my American Heritage series."
Limited edition Matthew Henson (resin $1000; wood $2000)
"My Country Kids series includes Leroy, T.C., and Johnny Mae. They are 6 inches tall and have a variety of character costumes. The Country Kids were inspired by kids that I grew up with on my block in Los Angeles."
L-R 6-inch composition "Country Kids," Johnny Mae and T.C. in clown costumes
Q. Please elaborate more on your first doll. Do you still have it?
"My first doll is all wood with peg-jointed limbs. She is dressed in Victorian-period clothing and stands 18-inches tall. In a doll competition, I won a green ribbon for this doll."
Floyd elaborates further that, "My first doll was created from lessons of love. The challenge was to create a sculpture from scraps of wood. The sculpture should be beautiful and desirable, thus giving the creation value. Some students were doubtful, others were eager to watch every step of the woodcarving process. A few minutes of carving during each of my classes brought amazing interest from all who watched. After two months of work, the sculpture took shape. A very tall and delicate lady emerged. The sculpture had to be directed limb from limb to make it into a doll... My wife still has the doll, and she certainly brings joy to all who have the opportunity to greet her!" (FBSFWEOMDS&E program booklet).
Describe your latest doll creation and the inspiration for creating it?
"My very latest creation was re-carving a Hitty doll for Bob Raikes. I recently carved a Condi Rice doll because of my admiration of her prominence as a world leader."
Before you begin making a doll, do you have an idea what the doll will
look like or do your dolls create themselves?
"I like to carve from pictures, paintings, photographs and sometimes from ideas that I dream up. Sometimes new faces appear from mistakes in carving. I also carve dolls from my own drawings and sketches."
than the American Heritage and Country Kids doll series
mentioned previously, have you
created other portrait or celebrity dolls?
"Yes. Josephine Baker and Ella Fitzgerald are two of the several other portrait dolls that I have created."
L-R: 24-inch, spring-jointed Josephine Baker ($3000) carved from alder wood and 20-inch Ella Fitzgerald made from resin or alder wood
Does each doll have its own personality?
"Yes, my dolls are all very different. Their features convey happiness, sadness, innocence and strength." In the aforementioned program booklet, Floyd writes, "My dolls tell a story. A story of a great people. A people in diaspora from the Motherland--Africa. I tell the story of a people torn from their homeland and enslaved in foreign lands. I try to capture in the faces of my dolls the pain and suffering, the dignity and resolve of a people who endured."
How do you decide on the clothing and accessories for your dolls and do
you make these?
"I research the clothing for my dolls, particularly if the doll has a historical theme. I started out with a dressmaker and designer named Doris Parker. We worked together for 15 years, until her sight began to fail. I work with Charolette Semple, and a few other designers, but I do make cloth doll bodies, clothes and accessories for my dolls. I was a journeyman upholsterer when I was nineteen. I worked with leather and fabric."
L-R 18-inch African girl carved from walnut wood; 16-inch Mr. and Mrs. Woodie carved of alder wood
you have your own personal style or trademark? If so, please elaborate.
"My dolls portray strong Black characters, real or created. My trademark is a bell for Floyd Bell dolls."
Do you want collectors to gain a sense of realism through looking at
your dolls or are your dolls caricatures?
What else do you desire for collectors to gain by owning your dolls?
"I was told by a curator that my dolls have soul. I was comfortable with that critique. I like to portray a special look and even a personality in the eyes and hands of my dolls. I also try to be mindful of posture and body language. I sometimes say that my dolls have a life of their own. They speak to me. I was moved at the UFDC Convention in Dallas when a collector cried with joy upon owning a Floyd Bell doll."
Approximately how much time is required to make one of your dolls from
start to finish?
"It usually takes from one week to three weeks for me to complete a doll depending on the complexity. Some of my dolls have cloth bodies; they take less time to make. I also create miniature dolls that only require 6-8 hours to make."
In a year's time, approximately how many dolls do you create?
"I made about 12 dolls in 2005."
doll at the UFDC Convention was priced several thousand dollars. What is the average cost of
"My dolls currently range from $125 to $2000 on average."
Floyd's Pinocchio and other smaller dolls at the UFDC ODACA exhibit, Dallas, TX, July 2006
Q. I am interested in the baby that was in the UFDC ODACA exhibit. Did that doll sell... I NEED an original Floyd Bell doll?
"The baby that you saw did sell. She was a prototype, one of four dolls called Walnut Babies. I have some ideas that I picked up at the National [Doll Festival 19th Annual Doll] Show. I will make sure that you get an original doll."
Q. How are your dolls presented to the doll community?
"I belong to four major doll groups -- United Federation of Doll Clubs (UFDC), National Institute for American Doll Artists (NIADA), and recently in Dallas, I joined Original Doll Artist Council of America (ODACA). In 2005, I became a member of the International Doll Artists Association.
"I am on the board of the Luther Sator Memorial Scholarship Fund. Luther was a tennis player and skier. He was killed in a ski accident in March. We are having a fund raiser at the home of Dr. Tim Scott in Los Angeles, on September 9, 2006. I will be placing some very special dolls up for auction. My Pinocchio will be offered with a beginning bid of $25,000."
If you have done doll shows, have you done any recently? Do you have any planned for the future?
"My most recent show and sale was the ODACA Exhibit at the UFDC Convention. I sold 8 dolls there in the short period of time that we were allowed to sell."
More of Floyd's dolls at the UFDC ODACA exhibit, Dallas, TX, July 2006
Do you teach your doll art?
"I do not teach doll art, but I believe in helping aspiring doll artists."
tips would you offer aspiring doll artists?
"My suggestion for aspiring doll artists is to make dolls because you like making them. Doll making invites the artist to take a journey. Get out there and showcase your dolls. Have your work critiqued by the best and use their advice. All of the organizations that I have joined promote artist dolls as fine art. NIADA offers a critique of artist dolls. I recommend new artists take advantage of this great resource. In doing so, [they] will grow."
Q. Shortly after I began collecting in 1991, I read an article in Doll Reader magazine about you and your dolls. I recall advising myself to acquire "a Floyd Bell doll" when their price was within my budget. I deeply regret not heeding my own advice. As a collector yourself, Floyd, have you experienced similar regrets?
"At first I was hesitant about collecting dolls. I was concerned about what others would think about a man who buys dolls for himself. 'What a pity!' I watched the dolls I liked shoot up in value right before my eyes. Collectors were snapping up the dolls I wanted the most, right and left! I said to myself, 'You had better go for it before they are all gone. Great dolls, like great art, are just nice to have around you!'" (FBSFWEOMDS&E program booklet).
Please elaborate on your doll-art achievements, awards, or other
In May 1994, Floyd wrote, "The most prestigious doll competition and show in Southern California during the '80s, and presently, is the 'Wally Bohler Ceramic Exposition... I was advised by dealers and collectors to put my dolls into the competition. Experienced judges would critique my work and thousands of people would view my creations... The emphasis of the show was placed on ceramic art and porcelain dolls... mostly reproductions of early German, French fashion and character dolls. There was a small category for hand-sculpted original dolls, where I could enter my wooden dolls into competition. I was thrilled to win my first green ribbon in the novice category... After a few years of competition, I was placed in the professional category... I was shooting for blue ribbons for my Black Indian, James Beckworth... [The doll won] three trophies--Best of Group, Best of Category, and Best of Show!" (FBSFWEOMDS&E program booklet).
"I also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Black Doll Festival."
"The Floyd Bell Scholarship Fund was given birth in Chicago when I attended a NIADA conference in 1993. A colleague suggested that my name would be a drawing card to solicit funds to help students with their college expenses... Other NIADA members and patrons agreed to help. Many artists sent dolls and handmade items for me to raffle to raise funds. Kareem Grimes was chosen to be the first recipient of The Floyd Bell Scholarship Award of $1000." (FBSFWEOMDS&E program booklet).
"CNN did a short documentary on my work. They interviewed my students at school, did a video of my one-man exhibit at the Concourse Hotel in LA, and videoed my studio. My UFDC doll club was very active in my fund raising events, as was my school. The scholarship fund was active for approximately 5 years and was an affiliate of the Westchester High School Booster Club."
"My dolls are housed in several museums worldwide. These include the Louvre in Paris, France; the Wanke Museum in Germany, the National Black Doll Museum in Ohio, the Philadelphia Doll Museum, and the White House Doll Collection USA."
What's next for you? Do you see yourself creating dolls long into the
"The International Doll Artists Association invited me to bring my dolls to Germany. I am considering this.
"I recently received a very special commission to do a doll of a real African queen. Her name is Queen Mother Semane B. Molotlegi of the Royal Bafokeng Nation of Africa. The Queen Mother visited my home last year after reading a book that I gave to a guest who was invited to visit Bafokeng. She saw my dolls, and came to my home and asked if I would carve a doll of her! Naturally I said that I would and proceeded to take photos of her. I will complete the doll in about 3 months.
"I am also investigating several avenues that may help more collectors acquire my dolls.
"I have many great photographs of my dolls. I want to create a website with the pictures and tell a story about each.
most definitely will continue carving
dolls long into the future. "
12-inch and 18-inch Walnut babies
Floyd's final comments:
"Each doll has its own story to tell. Dolls communicate in a special way. They have a mystical relationship with humans that I call 'doll magic.'" (FBSFWEOMDS&E program booklet).
[Finally,] "I would also like to thank Carolyn Allen for introducing us at the UFDC Convention."
Thank you, Floyd, for sharing your God-given gift of doll art with The Black Doll-E-Zine. I am certain the readers are now as spellbound by your dolls as I was when I saw them up close and personal.
Contact information for Floyd Bell:
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