No bones about it: Christy Lou Sturman is a true Doll Master!

As an artist, Christy Lou Sturman certainly creates like no other. Her collection, Dolls and Dead Things, drew wide-ranging attention to the creations when it was announced that some of the dolls were made with pieces of real human bone. The pieces were taken from old teaching skeletons long since thrown by the wayside. Sturman wisely has taken the potential powder keg of questions regarding using human bone in her art work and diffused the situation by asking people to understand mortality and examine the beliefs that go with being ‘dead’.

Working out of New Mexico, Sturman mixes the two things from her childhood she loved most- Barbie dolls and ghost stories- with each new doll she brings to life. Created using a combination of fashion doll parts, hand sculpted heads and the occasional trick or treat, each doll is uniquely one of a kind.Every costume and accessory is made by hand. Christy does her work the good old fashioned way- no sewing machines here! She’s also a pro at making hand made rag dolls and hand sculpted figurines. Talk about multi-tasking!

While the materials for each doll range far and wide (antique jewelry and animal skulls have also been used), the inspiration for Christy’s dolls reaches an even more vast horizon. From historical figures to storybook characters to legends, the amazing work of Christy Lou Sturman has been featured in a number of places and publications, including Girls and Corpses Magazine, Horrornews.net, and the annual Altered Barbie Exhibit in San Francisco, as well as the annual Texas Frightmare Weekend.

Who’s ready for some creepy doll talk!? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my interview with the fantastic Christy Lou Sturman.

1. Your creations toe the line of beautiful and terrifying, and I mean that as an absolute compliment. What roped you into the creepy doll industry?

Growing up my two favorite things were Barbie dolls and ghost stories. I still collect the 12″ GI Joe action figures, I’ve always loved high detailed, adult body dolls and I’ve always liked making my own clothing and accessories for them. I guess creepy dolls have just always been a part of me and my interests. When I was 11 I convinced some friends to sneak into a showing of one of the Friday the 13th movies with me, as soon as it was over I went home and turned one of my Ken dolls into Jason.
I also use them as a way to mentally exorcise ghosts and monsters. If I find something disturbing or scary I can put those feelings into a doll and I seem to lose the fear or the unsettled feelings about it.
I have always been artistic, even as a really little kid but the thing that feels the most fulfilling to me is to produce something in 3D and it causes me to create and think very differently than if I were just doing a drawing. Being able to combine my lifelong love of dolls, scary stories and 3 dimensional art pieces is my version of complete and total happiness.

2. Who or what are your inspirations as an artist?

My biggest inspiration, maybe surprisingly, is music. Just about every doll I ever made was sparked by music of some sort. I also love world history, especially the darker or more mysterious historical characters. So often I will come across a section of history or a certain personality from history and I will get a vague picture of a doll based on that person or era and it floats around my head for a bit. And then at some point I will hear something, some sort of piece of music that will connect to that image I have knocking around in my brain and it gives me the push to create the doll.
My dad was an amazing guitar player and he played with great musicians, my childhood home was always filled with music so I equate that with creativity and the passion of art. I need music to do what I do, and it can be anything from Mozart to Irish jigs to Korean dance pop to 90’s death metal. I love banjo music, I listen to a lot of blue grass and bands like Strawfoot when I work.

When I was a teenager I saw the debut of Tool’s PrisonSex video on MTV late one night and I was transfixed, I wanted to create dolls that felt and looked like the things in that video. I think it was that moment that I knew I wanted to be a creepy doll maker.

But often I will get the ideas for dolls from reading – a line of a story or poem will give me ideas, good movies give me a lot of inspiration, occasionally someone else’s art will spark something and I will go from there.

3. You also do real human bone jewelry. They are truly beautiful pieces. How do you go about acquiring the material needed for such a hobby?

I get the bones from teaching materials, old skeletons that had been used for educating medical students get old and thrown out, they can be bought or even found. It’s not illegal to own human bones in the US accept for in Tennessee and Georgia, a lot of people are confused by that. But as long as you aren’t the one who got the person to the dead state then you can have bones, and pretty much do whatever you want with them. You can sometimes get human bones from osteological suppliers – the places that normally sell animal skeletons, but recently China – our main source of human bone for sale in the US – closed their bone trade and now human remains will become increasingly rare for purchase. People in this country dont’ seem to be at all willing to change their concept of burial and remains. My secret, never attainable dream, is to revolutionize the funerary industry and be able to turn people into dolls once they have passed. I don’t think the world is ready for that though and probably won’t be in my life time.

I like working with bones as jewelry because they appear very delicate but they are very strong, and of course because they have the ultimate organic shapes, they are beautiful to look at.

4. How long does a ‘typical’ doll take you to create?

If I was working quickly it would take about three days, but generally I have to allow at least a week to finish a doll. Sometimes I will start a doll and lose all inspiration and drive to finish it, I’ve had some sitting around for a couple of years that I’ve never completed but fully intend to finish them someday. Some times I have gotten totally obsessed with the idea of finishing one and stayed up all day and night to finish it in a couple of days.

5. You also draw- your sketches are awesome. Do you sketch out all of your dolls first or simply go by the seat of your pants?

Thank you. I actually rarely sketch the dolls out. I will only sketch if for some reason I can’t work on the dolls themselves, and if there is one floating around in my head that wants to come out I will have to grab a pencil and get it out on paper. Once I did a doll based on a painting I had done about 8 years before and I loved the way it turned out, it was almost an exact 3D image of the painting I had done. But if I am able to make dolls I just let them come out as they will.

6. As a mother, is/are your child/children big fans of your art?

My seven year old son grew up around my stuff so to him it’s just a matter of being used to it. But he loves zombies and skeletons, I think that is a byproduct of having me as a mom. I got married recently and gained two daughters. My teenage daughter doesn’t have much interest in the dolls, when she first met me she said I was weird and the dolls were scary haha. But now her and I are really close, she still isn’t interested in the dolls much though. But my youngest daughter, who is eight, loves the dolls, she tries to make her own a lot of the time, she mutilates a lot of Barbie dolls – I guess other parents would find that disturbing, we find it cute. My son and daughter together are exact replicas of a blond Wednesday and Pugsley Addams. And she tells all of her friends about me and my work. All the kids love Halloween in this house, I put all my doll making skills into making Halloween costumes.

7. Who is your favorite “haunted doll” from popular horror cinema?

I like the puppets in the Puppet Master movies. And I love the Korean movie Doll Master, with the pretty young girl who was actually a ball jointed doll forgotten by her owner.

8. What is your favorite horror movie franchise?

I love the Ju-on movies from Japan, they get to me, they touch that horror nerve that unnerves me and makes me want to stay up all night with the lights on (making dolls). But I also liked House of a 1000 Corpses and The Devils Rejects, even though they had the same characters they were such different movies. The first one touched my campy, horror as comedy, theatrical side and the second got under my skin in that true horror feel.

9. How many art fairs/festivals do you attend in a regular year?

I usually go to two or three, I like Texas Frightmare in Dallas and my dolls are almost always part of the annual Altered Barbie show in San Francisco. I would really like to do more, I love horror conventions the vibe and the people are fantastic.

10. Who are some of your favorite horror artists?

Oh gosh this could be a really long list. My dad had those Time Life Enchanted World books when I was a kid, I spent so much time looking at the one about ghosts, I fell in love with the Japanese woodblock prints of ghost stories. And I love classic masters like Francis Bacon, Geiger, Dali. But as for current modern day artists my favorite is Kris Kuksi and Gunther Von Hagens, the BodyWorlds guy…I also love Grant Fuhst, Marcin Owczarek, Don Kenn, Todd Schorr and Mia Makaila just to name a very few…….

11. What are some projects you are currently working on that you are especially excited about?

Since I found out I was pregnant in January I was really sick for awhile and I couldn’t even sit up in bed on some days, it put a huge damper on my creativity for a couple of months. Thankfully that phase is passing and I am so eager to get back to work. I have started an elaborate doll representing Mephistopheles and I really want to create some more actual monsters like the Windego and a recent trip to Carlsbad Caverns inspired a cave monster idea that I’d really like to start. I’ve also played around with the idea of doing a Kali doll, but a lot of doll artists and doll alterers have done her in various forms so instead I’m leaning toward something along the lines of “Ghost of a Thuggee” to represent the Indian murder cult who killed in her name for a few hundred years.

Every year I look forward to being part of the annual Altered Barbie exhibit in San Francisco  (usually held in late summer or autumn). I’ve heard that this years theme will be Post Apocalypse Barbie, that’s right up my alley, I’m excited about what I can work on for that.

Meanwhile, until sometime in September I will continue to work on one of my biggest projects of all – incubating an actual human, it’s pretty creepy when I think about it.

I thank Christy for all of her time and support, especially considering she’s doing it as she serves as a human incubator!

If you are  interested in something of your own idea or a doll already made, toss Christy a line at:

dollsanddeadthings@gmail.com

And here’s the Facebook page!

http://www.facebook.com/DollsandDeadThings

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About Justin Hamelin

I am a freelance writer, mostly of horror and everything macabre. As a die hard fan of the genre with a particularly deep affinity for Women In Horror, I write film reviews, short stories, screenplays and conduct as many interviews as I can with the fantastic people who make the horror genre my absolute favorite!
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