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Factory Tours USA

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Factory Tours USA

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Turner Dolls, Inc.,
Heltonville, IN   47436
Map Location           Latitude: 38.928635   Longitude: -86.375589
Click here to go to the company web site
This tour is free

Turner Dolls has a complete line of lovable babies, precious toddlers and beautiful girls for your collecting enjoyment. May they bring you as much enjoyment as they have me.

Virginia Turner has spent her life in joyful company. Twenty years in doll making as given her many reasons to celebrate. Her merry family of dolls has also introduced her to many wonderful friends and exciting experiences, and has led her to her destiny.
A former bank employee, Virginia's career in doll making began in 1981 with Virginia's Very Own, a line of reproduction porcelain dolls. "My career in dolls began in the basement of our home in North Vernon' Indiana," Virginia explains. "My husband's sister, Judy, had sculpted a doll that a doll company in New York wanted to market. Since they were a vinyl operation, the company asked if Judy would provide them with the doll and they would make the clothing. Judy asked my husband, Boyce, and me if we would make the porcelain arms and legs and attach them to the body."

Boyce, who had managed a porch swing factory for 25 years, and Virginia began producing porcelain in the basement of their home while Judy sculpted the dolls' heads. Virginia also learned to paint china. Soon, Virginia, Boyce and Judy decided to start manufacturing their own dolls. Turner Dolls began with three reproductions by Virginia and three of Judy's sculpts.

In 1989, Virginia began creating her own original porcelain dolls after a sculpting seminar helped her to take responsibility for her own destiny. Lewis Goldstein, a sculptor and teacher, held a sculpting seminar at the Turner Dolls studio for Virginia and a group of her friends. Lewis encouraged Virginia to continue sculpting. "I had sculpted a small head," she says, "that I thought was not very good. Lewis told me that I had potential. I remember him saying that I wasn't ready for a Doll Reader ad, and that you crawl before you walk, and to keep sculpting."

Virginia did continue to sculpt, and finally called upon divine inspiration to seal her fate. "One Sunday afternoon I was wondering if I was really meant to stay in the doll business," she explains. "After a quiet time in prayer asking for guidance, I decided to sculpt another head. The result was a smiling toddler with two teeth. When I showed the sculpt to Boyce, his comment was, ~ow that's worth making a mold.' He made the mold, and we offered her in either pink or blue, with brown or blue eyes and blonde, red or brown hair." That doll was Jeannie, Virginia's first original porcelain doll.

In 1991, with vinyl dolls gaining in popularity, Virginia created Kitty Kay, her own vinyl doll. The vinyl parts were molded for the Turners by another company. Due to Kitty Kay's success, the Turners installed their own vinyl ovens in their studio. Haley was the first vinyl doll to be produced in the Turner Dolls studio.

In 1986, Virginia and Boyce had moved from North Vernon to a 40-acre farm in Heltonville, Indiana, where they had begun to manufacture their dolls. "My in-laws deeded the farm over to us," says Virginia, "and we began to remodel the house and build the Turner Doll Studio on the front acreage." The house, built in 1848, originally belonged to Boyce's grandfather and was willed to Boyce's father, Ralph Turner. "There are two good-sized ponds on the back side that are stocked with fish," says Virginia. "The fields are in pasture for our cattle and sheep. We have our own chickens, geese and swans, and also, not to be forgotten, two little jackasses. Yep, that's the correct name for them!

"The studio that I sculpt in was once the woodhouse/smokehouse," continues Virginia. "Underneath my studio is the cellar, which is still being used today for potatoes, etc., that are raised in the garden. I have a little deck on the side of my studio that I can sculpt on in the summer that overlooks one of the ponds. Our farm is joined to the 90-acre farm of Boyce's parents, and our cattle graze their fields, too. It is a very peaceful way of life on the back side of the house, and a very busy, commercial way of life on the front toward the road."

The very busy, commercial way of life Virginia describes is no exaggeration. Turner Dolls makes approximately 15~000 dolls a year, with Virginia designing most of the clothing for the dolls. "The ideas for my dolls come from many different directions," says Virginia. "Sometimes a picture inspires me. A lot of times, fabrics inspire the doll. A beautiful fabric can make a vision come into my head quickly." The insights and support of others in the doll business also inspires Virginia. She explains, "A program director from the Hamilton Collection said to me, 'Remember, no matter how many times something has been done, when you do your version, it's new.' So, I keep that in mind. I also listen to the public as they talk to me while viewing my dolls. My daughters, Julie, Susan and Teri, are good critics and my employees are really very supportive and inspiring."

The process Virginia goes through when making a doll begins with deciding which category of doll needs a new sculpt. "We have several different sizes and ages of dolls," she explains. Virginia begins to sculpt with plastic clay that does not dry out with an armature supporting the clay. Next, Boyce makes a plaster of paris mold of the sculpt that will allow the Turners to pour the doll in porcelain.

"When we get the porcelain pieces done," she says, "we must decide if we think the doll will adapt to vinyl well. If so, then we send the porcelain head to a wax artist who makes a rubber mold of the porcelain head. He casts the head in wax so that it can then be sent to the metal mold maker who makes our metal molds we use in our rotational ovens to make the vinyl dolls."

Virginia's 2001 collection echoes the beautiful words of William Wordsworth. The dolls Virginia has created are a gleeful band of children in a colorful array of costumes that are destined to bring joy to anyone who sees them. "Sometimes I feel that I can't do anything different or better," she explains, "but each year I come up with a new group of faces that become almost like my family. It keeps growing each year, and I can truly say they become real personalities to me." Two of Virginia's favorites from the 2001 collection are "Tanzie, a happy baby in a dress that I feel makes Tanzie smile," says Virginia, "and Dina, Born to Shop because I like to shop and because I also wouldn't mind having a coat and hat like Dina's myself! "

Fairy-tale characters also appear in the 2001 collection. Virginia has created Red Riding Hood, a 24-inch vinyl doll wearing a multi-print dress with a red, velvet hooded cape. Her basket contains a checked cloth and a loaf of salt dough bread. Red Riding Hood is limited to 200. Cinderella is a 24-inch doll that is also limited to 200. Her blue-and-cream charmeuse dress is accented with an overlay of sparkle and ivory venice, which is embroidered with sequins and pearls.

In addition, Virginia has created Mona, Cherie, Barry and Celadon, four adorable children. Mona, a 32-inch standing, vinyl girl dressed for a tea party, has auburn hair and green eyes. She is limited to 400. Siblings Cherie and Barry are each limited to 500. Cherie, a 30-inch vinyl little girl, comes with Cherry Beary, her favorite white bear. Her brother, Barry, carries a friendly green bear. And Celadon, a 33-inch vinyl doll, also comes with a bear. The doll wears a celadon green dupioni silk dress and an ivory wool pillbox hat. She is limited to 450.

An adventure from Virginia's life has also inspired one of the dolls in the 2001 collection. "One of the most outstanding highlights of my career in dolls," she explains, "was a trip to France in 1992 when I went for a two-week long sculpting class from Martine Vogel. Martine was a master sculptor. I wasn't familiar with the professional sculpting artists, only doll artists. Sculpting for the purpose of having the sculpt put into bronze or some other medium was a different story. For Martine's class, she had us first sculpt the skull and then finish the head, using the model's profile more than the front features. I learned from the class the benefit of having a live model. I think that Martine helped me to achieve a more realistic look to my dolls rather than a 'dolly' look. I'm still working on that and probably always will be.

"After the class was over," Virginia continues, "we toured France for 10 days. One of our most memorable stops was the town of Limoges. The town is noted for the porcelain factories there. While there, I purchased several pieces of popular cobalt blue decorated in gold. So, this year, my new sculpt for my large girl will be the Girl From Limoges. She will be holding a cobalt blue-and- gold Limoges lidded box with Turner Dolls 2001 printed in gold on the inside bottom of the box." Turner Dolls will create 20 dolls of the Girl From Limoges in porcelain and 280 in vinyl. While Turner Dolls are made in Caucasian skin tones, they can also be made in olive skin tones for Hispanic and Asian dolls and African-American skin tones.

In addition, Virginia has added a new doll to her Metropolitan Moments series that she created for the Ashton-Drake Galleries. The series, which began with Deirdre, a little girl in a pink coat carrying a carpet bag, will end with Alexandra, an ice skater in a light blue, velvet coat. Virginia has also made two dolls for Seymour Mann. "I really stay busy," she says, "because I sculpt the dolls, design the clothes, help Boyce with the photography, stay very much in touch with the factory production and do about seven signings and at least three trade shows."

Virginia's busy schedule allows her to come into contact with many of the collectors who enjoy her dolls. The feedback she receives from collectors has revealed to Virginia that they are drawn to her dolls because of the emotions the dolls inspire. "The collectors tell me, 'Your dolls make me feel happy,"I love the clothes you put them in,' or 'They remind me of real children.' I've always said that when a collector goes toward a certain doll, it's similar to being drawn to a special melody or a picture or a piece of art. It touches a place that says this makes me feel good. I would enjoy having this around me for enjoyment."

Collectors and others in the doll business also have helped to make Virginia's 22-year tenure enjoyable. "I think there are so many things that are exciting in being a doll artist," she says. ',I love getting the new dolls together each year for the American International Toy Fair(r). Toy Fair is by far more exciting for me than Christmas was when I was a child. I have been able to travel all over the United States and have met so many wonderful people that there are no words to express how I feel. I have enjoyed all my friends who are also doll artists and owners of doll companies. Although we are basically in competition, we are always ready to help each other. Some of my dearest friends are my friends who, like me, are making their living making dolls.

"Now that I start my 22nd year in dolls," Virginia continues, "I will also be starting my 66th year of my life. I feel that I could easily be happy doing this for another 20 years. I just hope God gives me the chance. It's a great profession for this lady!"

If you come through the week, between the hours of 7am and 3pm, you can see the factory in operation. Our shop doesn't open until 10am and that is when the official tours start. You really don't have to call ahead, just come during working hours. If you need directions, just call us and tell us from which direction you are coming from and we will direct you further.

This information was brought to you by a contributing member:
Jeff Stout

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