Soul of fire, heart of grace

"She has a soul of fire and a heart of grace." The ribbon says "Appearance doesn’t matter with a beautiful heart."

Jan Barber makes her spirit dolls with love and intention.

Jan Barber with spirit doll

“The doll helps you relate to your inner wise woman,” Jan Barber says.

“I design them to bring encouragement, inspiration, healing, and comfort,” Barber said over tea and cookies from Dough Dough Bakery in the fairy tale scrumptiousness of her art studio, a stone’s throw from the rocky strand of the Cove. “As we all do, each doll has many layers, beginning with her driftwood frame. Tucked into each layer I’ve chosen words stemming from her theme.” These theme words are sewn on to a ribbon attached to each layer of fabric. Barber ties each ribbon off with a classic French knot. Each word is a message of inspiration and healing.

The story of every spirit doll begins on the beach. Barber spends hours beachcombing in search of just the right sticks.

A recent creation, ‘She Danced to the Moon & Touched the Stars” has these words sewn on to her: “Love”; “Grateful”; “She is Rising”; “Believe in Yourself”; “Free Your Heart”; “Love the Small Things”; and “Unfinished.”

Although Barber has been making decorative and spiritual objects forever, the first spirit dolls were created in November 2018.

“I was making them as gifts for friends,” she said. The intention for each doll is to uplift a woman’s spirit.

“The doll helps you relate to your inner wise woman,” Barber said.

So far there are 18. They start as a few sticks bundled together to articulate an expression. Next comes moss for the head, and then the whole thing is wrapped in wool.

“After that they get a heart and then a face,” Barber said. Up to now, she’s been using faces she buys, but is thinking of casting her own.

As for each doll’s expression, Barber smiled. “Interpreting her expression is up to the viewer.”

Although in the past she’s had an Etsy store, and a friend sells the ornately embellished books she makes at an upscale flea market, until now Barber hasn’t exhibited her work in a gallery. She said one day she approached Cathy and Ray Tippin at Sun Rose Gallery in Seaside because she loves what they do, and because she said, “They’re just so nice.”

To no one’s surprise, the spirit dolls began selling right away. Barber also has begun accepting custom orders. They are a one of a kind keepsake.

Each doll is unique and tells its own story.

A recent creation, “She Has Fire in Her Soul & Grace in Her Heart,” includes a ribbon sewn on to the doll that says, “Appearance doesn’t matter with a beautiful heart.” This doll has tattoos and a nose ring and is wearing leather, metal, and dreadlocks.

“These are all outward things people use to judge a person,” Barber said. She told a story about wearing a blue wig and a fake nose ring out to dinner one night and experiencing the negative reaction of a fellow diner.

“It was pretty intense,” she said.

“In the words of one of her local clients, Jan seems to be able to capture the essence of some element of a woman’s experience and bring it into the material plane,” said Cathy Tippin. “The client recently purchased a cocoon/butterfly doll for a friend starting a new phase of her life.

The client also commissioned Jan to create a Harry Potter doll for her daughter in the themes of being true to oneself and choosing good,” Tippin said. “Another client purchased two dolls as heirlooms to pass down to future generations. No matter the theme of her spirit dolls, Jan’s hope is they bring inspiration, encouragement, and comfort. Ray and I witness that every day.”

Jan Barber’s spirit dolls are for sale at Sun Rose Gallery located 606 Broadway in Seaside. Stop by and see which doll resonates with you.

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