Rekindled passion for Indigenous-inspired creations from local dollmaker

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Robin Holland has an unorthodox family.

A child wears an outfit made of fringed cream leather, accented with real rabbit fur. There are also hand-woven ties adorning her long black pigtails, which stand out from under a beautifully colored beaded headband.

She goes through “Dancing with the Wind”.

Another child, known as “Turtle Song”, dons a bright scarlet blouse trimmed with ribbon and decorated with silver filigree. Her black hair is braided and trails behind her, attached to a matching traditional hair piece that evokes fire.

Despite all their individuality, these “children” share one thing in common: they are not human.

Holland, 69, a Maricopa resident since 2009, was once one of the world’s best-known doll makers. Her company introduced an innovative line of poseable, self-contained dolls called “Starshine Dolls”, which represented various Native American tribes in their cultural appearance.

When she wasn’t busy being a mother to five human children, she was busy becoming a mother to vinyl and cloth children. About 33 unique models of Starshine dolls were handcrafted by her company in the early 1990s.

But that was then. All things come to an end. And for nearly 30 years, the artist believed his beloved works had lain in the dust like the forgotten toys of a past filled with success and much pain.

Little did she know that on the Internet, interest was brewing in her Starshine dolls.

Find a niche
Holland’s company started by identifying a need.

You can find Holland’s signature on almost all Starshine dolls; this original Morningstar, dubbed “Alpha”, was produced in 1989 when the company was founded. [Ian Roberds]

It was 1989 and she had worked for three years at the Colorado Doll Faire in Fort Collins, Colorado. Her lifelong love of dolls had prepared her for the part-time environment of crafting, sewing and selling. What she wasn’t prepared for, however, was the number of people who came into the store asking for Native American dolls. “All they had at the time was either very expensive china or cheap little curios,” Holland observed.

Seeing the need for a reasonably priced, yet sufficiently detailed, Native American doll, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She took a doll, stripped her hair, and put a long-haired modacrylic wig in its place with straight bangs, which she then adorned with Navajo-inspired braids, ties, and a white feather.

Later, she designed a dress and jewelry to complete the doll’s transformation. Its new name became “Morningstar”.

“I took her on a trip through New Mexico and stopped at different doll shops along the way to talk to people and see if they would be interested,” Holland explained. “And they were all interested.”

Back home, she withdrew $2,000 from the bank and used it to place an advertisement in the November 1989 edition of Doll Reader, a leading magazine for collectors. By the end of the year, she had received more than 200 orders.

American heritage
Holland, an Ohio native raised in New Mexico, has long had strong feelings about native culture.

“I love Native Americans,” she said. “I think they’re beautiful and they’ve been abused forever. That’s why I decided to make these dolls.

In true cottage industry fashion, she converted the loft in her Fort Collins home into a doll studio and immediately began working on the growing list of commissions. A special agreement with Götz Puppenmanufaktur allowed him to buy excess stocks of dolls from the German company, which arrived at his door bald and undressed. These “naked” dolls were the perfect palette for her creativity.

Morningstar was followed by “Prairie Flower”, a doll representing the Cherokee tribe. Demand soon required more hands and at its peak Starshine Dolls employed 15 craftsmen who assisted in all aspects of production. A Navajo couple from Tuba City, Arizona handcrafted authentic jewelry for each doll, while an expert leatherworker from Lee Leather produced the genuine skin for their costumes and moccasins.

Holland had to quit both jobs — at the doll shop and as a seminary teacher — just to keep up. “I used to sit and sew from eight in the morning until 10 at night,” she said. “I worked around the clock to get them out.”

This 1992 photograph, originally published in the Denver Post, shows Holland in the midst of his business success. [submitted]

His mission became the company slogan: “Preserving an American Legacy”. She put hours of research into each design by reading countless books and working with real Native Americans as much as possible. Only the best quality

the material was used for the Starshine line – no cut corners, the brochures proudly proclaimed. For the beading, glass beads were specially imported from Czechoslovakia and worked by hand. Some dolls even have real moose hair and parakeet feathers.

All the hard work has not gone unnoticed. In 1991, her Cheyenne-inspired “Singing Dove” received the prestigious international DOTY (Doll of the Year) award. Starshine dolls can be found in stores across the country, including popular destinations like Busch Gardens and the now defunct Opryland USA of Nashville. The Denver Post hailed her as “one of the world’s most successful doll makers”.

It all ended in 1993.

Holland had never sought to make money; she simply wanted to help preserve Native American culture in the way she knew best.

Unfortunately, her unwavering commitment to detail and precision on the dolls meant that she certainly wasn’t making any money and in fact was losing it fast. A booming market, along with the costly theft of approximately $6,000 worth of dolls, left her in debt and unable to continue turning her dream into reality.

“I felt like a total failure,” she admitted. “I worked until I died and then all of a sudden – bam! – nothing. I was so disappointed.

A little over three years and hundreds of dolls later, the Starshine Doll company has closed its doors. Holland was forced to take out a second mortgage on her home to pay the bills. The remaining stock of unfinished dolls was distributed through programs such as Toys for Tots. Slowly, she began to erase the painful attempt at making dolls from her memory.

In 2009, with her adult children and away from home, she and her husband, Dan, left the Centennial State and settled in Maricopa, putting nearly 1,000 miles between her and the home where her Starshines were born. and are dead.

Rediscovery
Try as best she could to forget the dolls, others didn’t.

An assortment of items usually accompanied each doll, including a certificate of authenticity and a doll identification tag containing historical information about the Native American tribe it represents.

In December 2020, she received a call from her son, Adam. “He goes, ‘Mom, you’re famous and you’re on Wikipedia and you have a fan club,'” Holland recalled.

Through her son, she learned that her dolls were now some of the most collectible and expensive of their kind on the market. One of her original Morningstar dolls, once priced at $249.95, recently went on sale on eBay for $999.99, plus shipping. Some Starshines have sold for over $3,000.

“I was just blown away. I thought they had entered the black hole of the universe,” she said with a laugh.

Heather Arms attributes this to their careful craftsmanship and design.

“Their quality is incredible and evident the moment you see [a] doll in person,” she wrote. “Personally, I hope that one day Robin [will] I know how much Gotz doll collectors admire, cherish, appreciate and love the exceptional beauty, design and craftsmanship of her dolls.

Arms, a doll enthusiast known online by the nickname “GotzDollJunkie”, is the creator of the Götz Doll Wiki, a community website dedicated to finding and indexing dolls created by the Götz company. An entire section of the site is dedicated solely to the preservation of Robin’s Starshine dolls, which have become favorites with collectors.

Besides their intricate details and very limited quantities, another factor that has made their dolls so valuable is that their original face mold is no longer made and therefore highly sought after.

Although it has been used on other dolls before, its association with her work has led to it being affectionately referred to as the “Starshine Mold”.

But when Adam Holland first came across the website, his mother had no idea and had no idea that anyone still remembered his dolls. He left a grateful comment thanking Arms for her efforts, and when she replied asking if she might get a chance to speak to Robin herself, her response was, “Hope you have plenty of time. , because my mother loves to talk about dolls. !”

The next generation
“I never thought my house would be full of dolls again.”

Today, a chest of drawers in Holland’s small cyan sewing room is filled with an assortment of nude dolls in various conditions. Some she bought herself, while others were sent to her by people wanting to get the Robin Holland treatment.

She and Arms are now friends, and their connection has allowed the former doll maker to connect with some of her staunchest followers. United across states and time zones, their passion is alive and well beyond their size.

A mixed collection of Robin Holland’s original and ‘Next Generation’ Starshine dolls on display at her home in Tortosa. [Ian Roberds]

In January 2021, at the insistence and inspiration of these new friends, Holland launched a revived line of Starshine dolls dubbed “The Next Generation” – or as she dubbed it, the “Phoenix” line. Like the phoenix, she explains, her company and her passion for creating Aboriginal dolls rose from the ashes.

She’s doing things a little differently this time. The love is still there, but now she creates at her own pace, no longer overwhelmed by the accumulation of orders or the threat of going into debt. She enjoys traveling to various thrift and antique stores across the West to find unique materials and items to dress her dolls, only making as many as she can or just feels like.

Nevertheless, his fans are simply delighted that the master is back.
“I’ve met new people and new friends through these dolls I said goodbye to 30 years ago,” Holland said. “And suddenly they come back to visit me. You would never expect that because they are inanimate objects.

She doesn’t let him consume her life like he once did. When she’s not building a new Starshine, she spends much of her time painting, a hobby that has come in handy filling the walls of her colorful Tortosa home. Yet, as she recently learned, there’s apparently something quite special that happens when she channels her creativity into creating miniature representations of America.

“Maybe there is something more than I thought.”

This story was first published in the January issue of InMaricopa magazine.

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