Artist's Darci Dolls are a hit among children and adults 

Darci Dolls at The Okay See, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Darci Dolls at The Okay See, Tuesday, March 15, 2016.

Local artist Darci Lenker’s colorful cast of plush animals and other characters has grown more intricate over the years.

She started making dolls for her children nine years ago. Her first was a simple bear. Nearly a decade later, her creations have morphed into figures full of personality.

Lenker said she can’t explain why her dolls became more ornate over time. She was not conscious of the process.

“They’ve gotten bigger,” she said. “They used to be a lot smaller, and they used to have toy safety eyes.”

Darci Dolls are brightly colored or distinctly patterned, usually with button or fabric eyes. Zipper teeth might form a wide grin. She often hears her characters compared to the creatures in Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. or ’90s Nickelodeon show Aaahh!!! Real Monsters.

“I hear that a lot, but I have still never watched it,” she said. “That was between when I would have watched [Nickelodeon] and when my kids would have watched it.”

Lenker said when people, especially girls or young women, see Darci Dolls for the first time, they remark on how cute they are, usually with some kind of squeal. They are bought as often for adults as they are for children.

Lenker said she has made more than 1,000 dolls since she began seriously crafting them. No two look alike, and she often buys patterns online to get more variety.

“I try to buy small amounts of fabric so that I always run out and don’t accidentally make one [that is the same],” she said.

Hot commodity

After making dolls for her children, Lenker began sewing them as birthday presents for friends. Someone she knew had a farmers market booth and sold them for her.

When Lenker saw that people were interested in owning her characters, she signed up for farmers markets and art shows, including The Girlie Show, Deluxe Winter Market, Midsummer Nights Fair and Plaza District Festival.

They also can be found at The Okay See, 7 N. Lee Ave., and Norman’s Firehouse Art Center, 444 S. Flood Ave. Full-size Darci Dolls are $20.

Each character is hand-embroidered. Lenker keeps artist hours and is often up until 2 or 3 a.m. sewing new batches.

“I usually do an assembly line to get a ton done at a time,” she said. “It probably takes me two hours from start to finish for one.”

The figures range from recognizable cats and monkeys to multi-eyed and armless creatures. Recently, Lenker added dolls modeled after pop-culture and historic figures such as George Washington, Salvador Dali, Edgar Allen Poe, Frida Kahlo and others.

Lenker takes some requests, but most of them are her idea. She picks a subject based on a distinct look or an interesting personality. Not everyone can get a doll made for them.

“They have to be a cool person,” she said. “There will definitely not be any Trumps.”

One of her favorite creations — a series of two-sided Santa/Krampus dolls — was made last Christmas.

She has also taken requests to make custom dolls out of an old sheet or a beloved shirt and has crafted some pillows featuring her characters’ faces.

Other work

Lenker said the dolls she made for her children when they were younger were not her first. She began sewing at age 7 or 8.

Lately, she doesn’t have much time to work on new Darci Dolls. She has an art degree from the University of Central Oklahoma and works on other projects, including painting a fiberglass duck sculpture as part of a Norman Public Arts Board park project. She embroiders, too.

Sewing can be therapeutic for Lenker, but more often, she finds herself pressed against a pre-show deadline.

“Sometimes it can be a chore if I have a lot to do in a short amount of time,” she said. “Most of the time, it’s fun. The people have been a lot of fun because I haven’t been doing those for very long; just the last year.”

Find Lenker’s work at etsy.com/shop/DarciDolls or facebook.com/DarciDolls.

Print headline: Creature comfort, Darci Lenker’s doll-making hobby takes on a life of its own.

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