Once people walked into Contemporary Craft, they never miss the work station of our Artist-in-Residence, where the artist constructs their artwork and talk about their creative process with the visitors. Daniel Baxter, our 2017 winter Artist-in-Residence, is a Pittsburgh artist well known for his Kreepy Doll Factory, a continually evolving collection of handmade, whimsical fabric creatures. Since 2000, Baxter has been making Kreepy Dolls from his imagination with recycled fabrics and materials.
During his residency, Baxter can be seen sewing away to create one-of-a-kind Kreepy Dolls and sharing the stories behind them with everyone who is curious to know. In addition, The Studio is excited to have Baxter, who will be teaching a special holiday hands-on workshop – Kreepy Doll Stocking Stuffers on Saturday, December 2. This is a great opportunity for individuals and families to create the perfect stocking stuffers, and explore your imagination while learning simple sewing techniques. Register for the workshop now!
Contemporary Craft (CC): What is your artistic background?
Daniel Baxter (DB): I went to the Cleveland Institute of Art and got a degree in drawing. Drawing is super open and has the most amount of freedom. The process of mark making includes everything and it can be anything you want it to be. You can look at anything in the world and know that it started out with a drawing. I have been able to find happiness and peace through making art.
CC: Why Kreepy Dolls?
DB: I have had every kind of job you can think of: From working at a pizza shop, shoveling asphalt, washing windows, to being a tennis instructor and a summer camp counselor. I’ve worked in the basement of Toys”R”Us, and I learned from all of those jobs that I don’t want to be anything else other than an artist.
The motivation to have a toy store where people can come to experience magic and joy overrides any kind of hesitation that I might feel. I have always had artistic success by keeping that original motivation, so it is perfect to make Kreepy Dolls, especially in a world where there is all these extra fabrics lying around and free access to imagination.
CC: What is the inspiration behind your Kreepy Dolls?
DB: Everything is inspiring and inspiration comes from everywhere. The inspiration to the Kreepy Doll Factory is connected to my desire to create a wonderful place filled with magical things. As to the ideas for each individual creation, they are as unique as the people who come and find them. Each doll is 100% different, but together they create this beautiful and inviting place.
When I decided to become an artist, most of my thinking became about art and finding inspirations. I am constantly searching and drawing up new ideas and thoughts. I always tell people to value their imagination, because it is free and you can use it as much as you want in life. Imagination is the most powerful tool a person has.
CC: Your dolls are not made using commercial aesthetics: they aren’t made to appear perfect and symmetrical like most dolls. Do you feel like defying the standard principle of perfection with your dolls?
DB: I love ugliness just as much as commercialized aesthetics. When it comes to art, you have to have guts. People want the weirdest stuff they can find. Everyone wants something unique; to me, unique is weird and weird is beautiful. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There was a doll that I made that was seemingly unlovable. For five years, no one even looked at the doll or touched it. I wondered, “Is anyone ever gonna want this doll?” Then one day, the person who it was meant for found it. They walked directly up to my table, it was like they saw nothing else. Maybe they had come before and never noticed the doll, but they found it that day. My goal is for people to feel like they can find something that is specifically made for them.
CC: In our past Mindful: Exploring Mental Health through Art exhibit, your work also explored the subject of mental health and was highlighted in The Store. Do Kreepy Dolls always have an underlying meaning or connection to a social issue?
DB: The individual who buys the dolls typically determines its purpose. Just like any toy, a person can bring it to life how they want once it is theirs. However, I get to play with my ideas and thoughts as an artist, and I can instantly tackle an issue in the Kreepy Doll medium anytime. It could be about a serious social justice related subject matter or a question of science, but it could also be for the purpose of silliness, a feeling that I need to express, or simply to make people feel good. The doll doesn’t have to have a deep meaning to it, but it can.
The Mindful show was empowering, because it gave the audience a chance to speak openly about an otherwise very difficult subject. Making art with the purpose of empowerment opens up the lines of communication. I know that art has the power to impact and it was very evident in Mindful.
CC: You once said that you wanted the materials to be approachable to people. Why is that important?
DB: From my heart and as a person I want to always include everyone and everything in that spirit of goodness and happiness. That’s kind of why I make something different each time, so there’s something different for everyone. If there is a non-approachable vibe in the end then that would be failure on my part.
I want to draw people in and I want my space to be inviting, a space that encourages people to find something that makes them feel special. I want people to leave like they are ready to party! So the materials and space gotta be inviting. The general idea is to make people feel like they’re ready to have a good time.
CC: Which is more important when creating your dolls? Process or product?
DB: When I went on the path as an artist, I learned that both process and product are equally as important. Both of them are goals that you have to constantly reach towards, so they go hand and hand. If you are always trying your best, then the end product should be all that it can be and that is because your process was strong. When the process is all that it could be, it creates a better product.
CC: Do you plan to have an actual toy factory one day?
DB: I have no desire to produce dolls in mass production. I am content with it just being me until I expire as an old dried up Kreepy Doll maker. In a way, I actually do have an actual toy factory. It’s pretty amazing for people to walk in into this artist work space at Contemporary Craft that I’ve created and I can transform the space anyway I want based on my own ideas. Like how the last Artist-in-Residence, Ryder Henry, transformed the space with his art, it felt like you were walking into his imagination. That’s one of the things I like about this place.
CC: What advice would you give to an individual who is interested in making a Kreepy Doll of their own?
DB: To make drawings. If you don’t think you know how, just draw shapes and add them together in weird ways. The key to making a Kreepy Doll is: you slap a smiley face on anything and it’s good to go.
“The world is not a readymade place.”
Interviewed by: Doretha Murray