American doll artist Glenna Hartwell of DollStories had a serendipitous encounter that led her in an unexpected direction. This May She released The Official Elvira Limited Edition BJD at the beginning of May.
Q: Could you tell me how this whole project began?
A: In addition to being a doll sculptor, I am also a painter, and every summer I teach a class in Cape Cod, MA, at The Cape School of Art. I stay in a lovely little town called Truro, on a farm overlooking the ocean. It’s 10 acres, and very beautiful, with horses, goats, chickens, and dogs. The owner rents out a little cottage. The house and cottage are famous, in a way, for having been painted by Edward Hopper in the early part of the 20th century.
The owner of the farm is a wonderful woman in her late 50s. She is a personal friend of Cassandra Peterson, the actress who plays Elvira. Last summer, as many BJD collectors do when they travel, I brought a couple of my dolls with me. They were my own sculpts, DollStories Kirya and Sylk.
The Kirya was sitting in a chair, dressed in the Amorsdoll outfit, “Hell Butterfly” – my favorite outfit. The owner, who I’ve become friendly with, walked in and exclaimed, “that DOLL!” She was very impressed, and wanted to know more about bjds. She told me later she couldn’t get her out of her mind!
Later she asked if I had ever thought about making an Elvira doll. She told me about her friendship with Ms. Peterson, and how she was coming for a visit later that summer. She asked if there was any way I could do a version of the doll as Elvira to show Ms. Peterson, and we both got really excited about the idea. My sculpt has large breasts, and as we were looking at her with her white resin, we thought – this could really work!
I got home and got to work. I had a week and a half. I got in touch with the wonderful Jenn Nalin of Dolls of Mine. We had met at the PNW BJD Expo the previous May. I asked her if she could make a sample dress for me in a week! She bought a pair of the Elvira dagger earrings to use as the dagger on her belt. Boy, did Jenn deliver. I got the dress and it fit so well, tight in all the right places, and the faux leather belt was there too!
For the wig, I used the Jpop London wig and had a hairdresser friend poof up the back some more, and cut bangs and layers.
While I was waiting for these goodies, I did the face-up using acrylic and pastels. I never use airbrush, since I have birds in my home and the paints and thinners are toxic to them. Elvira’s mouth was the hardest part of the face-up. It really had to be right. My Elvira BJD is not meant to be an exact likeness — it’s a somewhat anime-looking version of Elvira, seen through the lens of the Asian BJD aesthetic. I don’t think anyone’s ever done a celebrity doll in that way. Companies like Funko, who make those short little figurines, take a lot of liberty. I didn’t want her to be that different from the real Elvira, but rather a stylized interpretation.
After about a week and a half, the prototype was ready and I shipped her up to my friend’s Truro farm. It arrived the day before Ms. Peterson did!
There were a couple of snags. First, the wig — I had shipped the doll wearing it, but it had slipped off. My friend had no familiarity with putting wigs on dolls and I had to talk her through it on the phone! The next hurdle was the belt. My friend texted me a photo, and I saw that the belt was upside down. When I told her, she insisted that it was the right way. I didn’t argue. I figured — at least the belt is ON the doll! She finally got it set up in her office, and planned to surprise Ms. Peterson when she walked into the room.
I wish I had been a fly on the wall when Ms. Peterson saw my little Elvira! I waited anxiously and finally, my friend texted me, “She LOVES it!” She told me that Ms. Peterson played with the doll, and exclaimed, “she can do all the Elvira poses!” – and then she said, “but the belt is on upside down!” and she took it off and put it back the right way.
She had my friend text me her management’s contact info, and asked me to send the doll to them right away.
So the battered box with the Elvira prototype came back to me, and I sent it onwards — to Hollywood!
And that is how the Elvira BJD came into being.
Q: What a fun story! So how did this result in you releasing an Elvira doll to collectors?
A: Elvira’s management team had her approve the doll one more time, confirming that she did indeed want to produce it. Once she gave the go-ahead, I decided to go ahead with producing the doll for collectors. Elvira’s devoted fanbase loves the doll, but BJD collectors have also responded enthusiastically. I think that’s because there’s a crossover — many BJD collectors are also horror fans, and by extension Elvira fans. It seemed a natural fit.
Q: I found it interesting that you offer her in two sizes. I was curious why you decided to do that.
A: As I’ve been developing the Elvira project, I’ve also been upgrading my dolls’ body. I previously offered only single knee joints. It was well past time to move to double joints. I also created new, high-heeled feet for Elvira. I have been wanting to offer 1/4 size dolls for a long time, and so I decided to roll all these upgrades into the Elvira release. Offering the 1/4 size makes sense for this project, because it’s a fairly pricey full-set, and the 1/4 scale offers a very popular, lower-priced alternative. In the future I will be offering other dolls in 1/4 scale as well.
Q: So your future dolls will come with all the updates? And will more 1/4 size dolls be released too?
A: Oh, definitely! Now that I have the new size, new joints, and high-heeled feet, I will be applying the joints to all my dolls, offering the 2 sizes, and shipping with both foot options.
Q: So did you co-ordinate the seamstress and Jpop to supply the outfit and wig? Where are the other accessories from (eyes, shoes)?
A: Yes, I am coordinating all the accessories for the project, and I have the whiteboard charts to prove it!<
As you mentioned, JPop dolls is creating an exclusive Elvira wig. Dolls of Mine is making the dress. Eyes will be from Hand Glass Craft, the same manufacturer who supplies eyes to Safrin Doll. The shoes are being made to fit my dolls’ new high heeled feet by SartoriaJ. They are making the off-black pantyhose as well. The jewelry is from BJDouterie.
The Elvira doll will come in a custom box that I’m really excited about. It’s black, quilted, coffin-shaped, and comes with the Elvira logo on the front. The interior is foam die-cut to fit the doll.
Q: Is the casting company painting the face-ups?
A: I am doing all of the face-ups, blushing, and mani-pedis myself.
One note about the doll — unlike my other BJDs (and most other companies’ as well), the Elvira BJD will come with the lower anatomy sanded smooth. She will not have detailed blushing of the breast area — if you get my drift! This is per her management team, and I completely understand.
Q: Will this be the only time the doll will be sold
A: Yes, this is the only time the doll will be offered. I am licensed to produce 100 dolls.
Q: Have both the 1/3 and the 1/4 size sold well?
A: Both sizes have sold well! I do still have dolls left (they went on sale May 3), and the smaller size is selling the fastest.