Friday, September 26, 2008
The Meltingpot Interview --Enter the wOo!
Last week I was strolling through a street festival in Philadelphia and came across these quirky, adorable, little dolls. Something about their colorful skin tones, beautiful clothing, and homemade style made me stop for a second glance. If I had a daughter, I probably would have bought one for her, but since my sons only use dolls for bopping each other on the head, I thought it best to channel my energy into getting to know the doll maker instead. And I wasn't disappointed. So dear readers, introducing, Melissa Conroy, the creator of woOberry dolls.
The Meltingpot: I love your dolls because even though their proportions are a "little off," they still seem to be very real, from their multi-culti skin tones, to their cute names, to their clever "back stories." Can you tell us why you chose to make such a wonderfully diverse line of dolls?
Melissa Conroy: woOberry started with a Mama doll inspired by one of my daughter’s drawings. In the beginning I was making dolls with orange, red and yellow faces. Then I decided that I wanted them to function more as dolls than just characters. So, I decided to give them more natural skin tones that kids would identify with. Writing their stories has been a lot of fun. A few of them are based on real people, while most of them are invented. I’m happy you see the dolls as real because I want each doll to have a personality, like he or she could be the guy who lives down the street or a family member.
MP: I read that you are a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Did you envision yourself a doll maker in college?
MC: I taught myself how to sew when I was in 2nd grade to repair my stuffed animals, so I think its been waiting to come out for a while. At RISD, I fell in love with drawing and majored in painting. I saw myself as a painter but probably wouldn’t have been too surprised to get a glimpse of my future self embroidering doll faces.
MP: Is running woOberry your full-time gig or do you have a side job? Has it always been this way?
MC: We lived in Brooklyn before moving to Philadelphia four years ago where I worked as a Teaching Artist. Right now, I split my time between woOberry and raising my two kids.
MP: Do your kids like to play with the dolls?
MC: I have an agreement with my daughter that she can keep any of the prototypes she likes, so she has many woOberry dolls. My son will sleep with pEnelope now and then and likes to use the boy dolls as stand ins for footballs during the day.
MP: I know some people, who don't love dolls as much as I do, might not think dolls are such a big deal but I know they are really important for children's identity and self-esteem among other things. Plus, a doll can be a really good friend. So with all of that, what are you hopes/plans for woOberry dolls in the future? WoOberry dolls in every household, perhaps? woOberry dream houses sold separately? Do tell?
MC: A woOberry dream house… that would be great. I would love to design the wallpaper. I’d love for woOberry dolls to be sold around the world and to be loved by the kids who own them. I’ve recently signed a contract with Blue Apple Books to write and illustrate a children’s book using a few of the dolls as characters. I would love to see a whole series of books that could be companions to the dolls. I’d like to make a 100% sustainable doll. Right now, they are pretty close, being handmade with natural materials, but if we’re talking about worldwide distribution, there may be a few mass-market hurdles to jump. Finally, I have a lot of ideas for making a more interactive and animated website.
MP: Well we hope you succeed in all of your endeavors. Those American Girl dolls need some fresh competition…Before we let you go, can you please tell us what in the world is a woOberry?
MC: When I was a kid, my nickname was Woo. It was a nickname that eclipsed my real name until I was 12 when I got fed up with being teased about it. My family had a “Woo” going away ceremony. We wrote “Woo” down on a piece of paper and set it on a homemade boat of birch bark in Lake Superior but my Dad never stopped calling me Woo. He claimed it had come ashore. Now that I am an adult I like the idea of having such a unique nickname. When J., my husband, heard my Dad call me Woo, he was intrigued and started calling me Wooshine and Wooberry. I thought Wooberry sounded good for a doll company.
So there you have it, straight from Woo’s mouth! Thank you.
So readers, even if you're not a "doll type" check out the wooberry website and get a kick out of all of the back stories on the dolls. My favorite dolls are Josephine and Jonathan: "She likes building tall buildings and eating cake batter. He likes science experiments and searching for earthworms." Delicious isn't it!
Have a wonderful weekend.