Dolls With Deep Stories

“My original goal was to make the most beautiful doll in the world,” says Fine Arts sophomore Jada Hairston. “I wanted my dolls to be pretty objects. What else could dolls be, right?  But as I was developing my college portfolio in 2018, I realized that’s kinda boring. I was writing my artist’s statement and thought ‘what if dolls were not just beautiful? What if they were made to have more thought, more depth then just hollow plastic?’”
“Ruby,” the first doll Jada Hairston made with heavy bead work (2019)

Hairston continues: “It’s a given that dolls represent beauty and idleness in whatever culture produces them. Even now I am motivated by my middle school dream of making the ideal doll,” she says.

The looks of Hairston’s dolls have changed over time. “My vision morphed from making them vapidly beautiful to them having a storyline and personality. There is innocence, like most dolls, but there’s a deeper story there. They are not girls, but women who have experienced life, tragedy and are living with whatever has happened to them. They are not perfect, they make mistakes, but they keep living.”

“Summer,” head bust, by Jada Hairston (2020)

Hairston began making dolls when she was 13. “It started as something simple. I was collecting dolls in middle school and there was a doll I wanted, but couldn’t afford. Being a beginner artist I tried to replicate it but didn’t have strong enough skills to execute my ideas.”

And yet, her early work enhances her current classwork:

“I can see how the expressive brushstrokes she uses in the paintings she’s making in my Painting III class have a precedent in how she adds colors to the surfaces of her dolls’ faces, ” says Fine Arts Chair Julia Jacquette.

Two dolls made a year apart by Jada Hairston to compare her progress.

Her creations start with an idea, she says. “The face, the costume and body arrive from constant thought. I use sculpey clay to sculpt everything. The inside of the doll is hollow. Then like beads being strung on jewelry wire, I string the dolls together. On top of the head there is a wire peg. I tie the elastic string around that wire. There is also that same wire at the feet and hands,” explains Hairston.


“My current process is definitely enhanced by my FIT experience. When I was a highschooler I tended to be disorganized and it reflected in my work. I also used to rush. It’s why a lot of my dolls eventually fell apart,” she says.

Doll made by Jada Hairstron

“In Fine Arts, says Hairston, “there is an emphasis on structure rather than pretty details. In the past, I wanted everything, body and all, to be super detailed and very doll-like. Now I make sure everything is structurally sound and when that is done, I then worry about the fashion and face,” she says.

Doll made by Jada Hairstron

Hairston says her current phase of doll-making was prompted by COVID-19. “At the beginning of the year I reached a point where I plateaued. I was making fewer dolls and it was taking me much longer to finish one, which is unusual because I’m a very quick artist. My ideas were clogged up. Not only that but my life was a lot more busy.”

“Opera Singer,” by Jada Hairston. (June, 2020)

Before the pandemic, Hairston says, she had less time for doll-making because of her commute from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, on top of classwork.

“When COVID-19 happened, I suddenly had this free time to work on projects and explore new ideas,” she said. I had ideas tucked away in my mind for years that were being unleashed. I would spend 10 hours straight just making a doll. I feel like because of quarantine and being home all day, my skills have accelerated.

Doll made by Jada Hairstron

Hairston says her “art goal” this year is to incorporate doll-making into her class work.

Follow Jada Hairston on Twitter and Instagram: @mysterious_artist_j

 All images used with permission.

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