26 dolls to remember Newtown

Feb. 05, 2013 @ 05:34 PM

They’re about eight or nine inches high, eight ounces or so in weight, soft, cushiony and cuddly.

They are also, all 26 of them, smiling.

They’re rag dolls, made by Chapel Hill fiber artist Carolyn Doyle, designed for children at Duke University’s Children’s Hospital and made in memory of the children who died in Newtown, Conn.

“I think of them in a way as a gift from the deceased,” Doyle said. “They are my way of taking up the challenge of ’26 acts of kindness.’”

That’s a challenge that was posed by television personality Ann Curry after a lone gunman shot and killed 26 people last December in the quiet Connecticut village. “Imagine if everyone could commit to doing one act of kindness for every one of those children killed,” Curry had written.

“You often hear artists talk about inspiration,” Doyle said. “I had never really been inspired like that, by an event. But what happened there just struck such a chord. Everyone hates to imagine the loss of a child. I felt I had to do something.”

A friend in a sewing class told her about the acts of kindness challenge. Other friends were responding to the challenge by bringing cans of food to homeless shelters or writing letters in support of gun control.

“I was thinking of doing something like that, but then I thought of doing something for children,” Doyle said. “I felt I had to do something with children in mind. And I suppose I did it, too, to assuage my own grief and sorrow after what happened. But I thought I could turn that grief into something positive.”

That’s why, she said, the dolls are all smiling.

“They are meant to make children happy,” she said. “Dolls, they make a statement and it’s a happy statement.”

Once she got the idea, Doyle worked non-stop, over a 10-day period, to get the dolls done, using quilting fabrics she had in her studio.

“I stayed up late working on them,” she said. “When I get going, I can really be obsessive about some things.”

When she was done, though, she was done.

“I’m not making any more of them,” Doyle said. “I’m not turning this into a cottage industry. This was the project, and I was just making the dolls for this, for the children who need the comfort.”

Patterned on matryoshkas, the Russian stacking dolls, Doyle’s brightly colored creations variously have floral bodies or skirts of hearts or sunbursts. The heads are covered by bonnets and the faces are beatific.

All 26 dolls are in a glass-covered display case at the entrance to the children’s hospital. They are there, Doyle said, “in the hope that they may inspire others to do things in the community, to do things for children.”

Edith Rosenblatt, the volunteer coordinator for children services at the hospital, said the dolls ultimately will be given to children there, “children who need them.”

“They will go to our patients,” Rosenblatt said. “They’ll go to somebody that needs to have something to cuddle.”