Crafting Individuals: Enchanted Doll’s Meticulously Handcrafted Dolls Are Not Just Pretty and Not Just For Play

10 YEARS OF TEARS

It's our 10th anniversary this year and we're feeling a little weepy‒that’s why we’ve dusted off the archives to bring you highlights from our back issues over the last 10 years. Join us as we take a look back at 10 years of SAD Magazine, revisiting the memories and the people that made SAD what it is today. We're not crying, you’re crying.

Photography by Tina Krueger-Kulic

Photography by Tina Krueger-Kulic

Marina Bychkova encourages me to play with her dolls. If Barbie and Michelangelo’s David mated in a Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, the result would be Bychkova’s Enchanted Doll line. The dolls are fully functional and created from durable materials so that they can be safely played with, but I still hesitate at the notion of touching one.

Bychkova spends around 350 hours creating and hand painting each doll, and upwards of 100 hours on every embroidered and beaded costume with precious metal and gemstone accessories. “I can justify my whole life as making something that is just the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen,” she says. “it has to have a presence that will be absolutely unforgettable.”

Enchanted dolls have been purchased by the likes of Mark Parker, president and CEO of Nike, and Fabrizio Vitti, lead shoe designer for Louis Vuitton; they have been featured in countless magazines and are becoming reoccurring fixtures in galleries throughout Europe. In Vancouver, Bychkova leads a quiet life with her fiancé, who is also the photographer and web designer for Enchanted Doll. Her product is a reflection of herself—practical, fantastical, conflicted, and one of a kind.

Bychkova pulls out a box containing hundreds of paper dolls—many based on characters from popular culture such as Scully from the X-Files, Prince Charming, and Sailor Moon. “while other girls played with dolls, I made dolls. I remember when [Disney’s] Aladdin came out; I made a princess Jasmine doll and showed it to my classmates and all of the girls wanted one. I made like twenty of those dolls for sale and then came to school and said, ‘You Want a doll? A hundred rubles please!’” she laughs while feigning to sell them from an imaginary trench coat.

“I think I started making dolls when I learned how to hold scissors,” she says. Much of her initial motivation originated from dissatisfaction with the toys she had. “When I was eight, I saw Barbie for the first time on a television commercial and it was like a religious experience. I had never seen a doll like that before; I had old Soviet toys that were ugly.” Bychkova then embarked to create something even better. Fascinated by both form and function, Bychkova made her first jointed doll that same year using bolts plundered from her grandfather’s tool cabinet. The doll flopped under the burden of the heavy joints on its candy-box body, but it reflects the detail and craftsmanship that Bychkova has always striven for.

Like a mad scientist, Bychkova ran wild with her experiments. “The tone was set really early on when I would harvest parts from different places like magazines and books. Then I got older and started taking household objects apart and made them into Frankenstein dolls. My mom would find them and say, ‘Hey, this is why the radio doesn’t work!’ I just couldn’t stop making dolls. It’s like an inescapable path that I had to follow and, seeing how I was so aware of it and so obsessed with it, it almost seems natural that I would end up doing it,” she says.

While her artistic ability was apparent to everyone, Bychkova was fed the stereotypical notion that artists are poor and so she never anticipated that she would be making dolls as a profession. She responded to the many people who proclaimed she would be an artist by saying, “No, I’m going to be painting on Saturdays and Sundays while Monday to Friday I’m going to work.” This mindset survived until her family left Russia for Vancouver, when she was fourteen. By the time she graduated from high school, she felt more proficient at expressing herself through art than the English language. She then applied to Emily Carr simply because she felt she had no other option. “On the day that I was submitting my application form to Emily Carr there was an earthquake and after it ended I had to go across the bridge. I saw all these really creepy swirls in False Creek. I guess sediment from the bottom had risen and all of the water was brown. It was like an omen,” she says.

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Bychkova describes her time at Emily Carr as miserable. Anticipating traditional technique classes, she was bitter at the hours spent studying theory, which detracted from her studio time. Frustrated at the vast separation between her schoolwork and her creative work, she began to think differently. “In a way, art school really made me who I am, even though I resented it. It forced me to evolve. I think the reason I don’t just make pretty dolls in pink bows and skirts holding little teddy bears is because I was forced to think of dolls as a tool for art that has to communicate something more meaningful than just, ‘I’m a pretty little girl, play with me,’” she says.

While still in school, her coworkers at her part-time job surprised her with a gift certificate for a porcelain doll studio in Granville Island. Eventually, the studio shut down, forcing her to buy her own kiln. Accrual of materials then grew, such that Bychkova now has a full studio in her apartment and her passion has transitioned from part-time to profession. She has been making porcelain ball-jointed dolls for the last six years and finds inspiration in everything from teacups to art nouveau. “I find things that resonate with my own work because of something I have inside me that drives me to find those things. It’s like the secret, except that’s bullshit,” she laughs.

She runs off to her bookshelf to show me her favourite artist, Sulamith Wülfing, while expressing admiration for Wülfing’s ability to transcend the mainstream; Bychkova aspires to this ability in her own work. “I channel my own vision of perfection and beauty into dolls; but in some, I try to inflict flaws just to explore the tension of the perfection that we all crave. I like to think my dolls are something more contemporary, something more interactive, something more than just dolls.”

The extraordinary quality of her dolls require that she advertise beyond Vancouver and, thanks to the Internet, she has sparked global interest among fine art collectors, doll aficionados and fashion designers. “Some of my clients have never even had a doll. They buy my work not because it’s a doll but because of the aesthetic qualities. Then there are the hardcore clients that want dolls because they like dolls,” she explains. Doll fanatics often buy nude dolls because they are more accessible and suited for dress-up and so, to better serve these clients, she has started experimenting with making resin dolls, which are less costly. Art collectors prefer Bychkova’s costumed dolls, purchasing with the intention of displaying the doll like a finished painting or sculpture. 

It takes me by surprise when Bychkova discusses her struggle with consumerism. Her dolls are handcrafted with such love and fastidiousness that it seems unlikely they would be thought of simply as objects. “I just think we’re so oversaturated right now with things. When you make something, and contribute to consumerism the way I do, it has to be incredible. It can’t just be another thing. If you’re going to make something, just go crazy with it!” Another conundrum is maintaining a balance between financial and creative success. “It kind of sucks that you have to be driven by things other than pure creativity and contend with the realities. I don’t like to say that. Most people won’t understand. Sure, when you have a huge trust fund, you can afford to do that. Some commercialization is inevitable. Ultimately, I do what I want to do, but some of it I want to do less than others.” She smiles, “I have a great life. I get to live out my dreams and make them come true—literally, make them come true. They just appear in the form of dolls.”

This piece was first published in 2010 for Issue No. 4: Girls Girls Girls.
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