THE ORIGIN OF
My first room guardian was never intended to be a project I recreated. The idea caught fire when a friend and I were walking through an antique store. On one of the bookshelves sat two stuffed foxes wearing riding clothes. I contemplated buying them because it looked as if their expressionless stares were actually seeing and watching over the room. It seemed like they were alive though they were a long way from being realistic. My contemplation came to an end when I realized I could spend less money and have a better one if I just made it myself.
My mentality making the first room guardian was not "I want to make an animal doll" it was more, "I want to make a realistic animal sculpture with fur, what is the best way I could go about doing that?" I did not even realize poseable animal art dolls were a widespread art form. I struggled finding a term for them at first because they were not plushies, and they weren't sculptures, they lie somewhere in between. I decided to call them "room guardians" only after I had made the first few to sell at a local festival because the name seemed to fit. I know many cultures have their own version of a room guardian, whether it's a little house spirit in the kitchen, or a lucky totem, but I cannot say I was directly inspired by any of these. The room guardian is as far as I know, a term I coined, and the idea materialized without any direct link to a tradition or custom.
Whether you are superstitious or not, room guardians are intended to protect your home from negative spirits and energies. I've had many customers tell me how much their guardians have helped them with anxiety, stress, or even just easing their loneliness a little bit. They each have their own personalities that start to develop as I make them. Sometimes I have an idea of how a room guardian is going to turn out and it will just change completely once I start making it. If one is telling me it wants to look a certain way, it will make sure I listen to it! I like to think I'm creating bodies with the likeness of unseen spirits for them to fill and use as a bridge into our world. A room guardian also seems to choose its owner as much as its owner chooses the room guardian. If it is meant to be with a specific person, it will find a way. I've had several instances where I denied my policies to make sure a specific buyer would be able to get a room guardian because it felt like they needed to be together. Or on the occasion I felt compelled to give one as a gift to a specific person because they were meant to have one. That is one of the reasons I almost never name the room guardians before I ship them out. I like to leave that important part to the owner. They can choose the name that feels right for them.
Unlike a lot of doll artists, I do not generally plan the design of a guardian much in advance. I like to let them form as I go. It makes the whole process more interesting for me. I don't use patterns for the fur, I use a more "cut and sew as I go" technique. The method works especially well because the fabric takes the form of the armature underneath since the body is not as amorphous as a plush would be. It all adds a bit of mystery and fun to the process because I can easily make changes as I go.
I try to improve my techniques and materials whenever and however I get the chance. I went from using hot glue, regular sculpey, and real fur to sewing, super sculpey, and faux fur. Even if the improvements are unseen from the photos, there are always structural improvements happening as I make more and more room guardians. I used to think I would hit a plateau and be the best I could be, but that quickly turned out to be false. Comparing my current sculpting skills to even a year ago, I can notice some big differences.
Room guardians continue to intrigue and excite me to this day. I of course get the occasional motivational block or lack of inspiration, but I would not rather do anything else. Who would have known there's a niche in the art market for small animal dolls that watch over your room??
That is how Caiaphas, the first room guardian, came to be. Using random foil foam and cardboard, I created his body and covered it with old fur from a thrift store coat. He was a beautiful fox and he still sits by my bed in my room. At the time though, I pictured this being a one-time project. I would not make another because Caiaphas was such a nuisance to create. Then came Christmas and I made a white fox for my friend. She was made sturdier with corks and wire inside, but she was still a pain in the neck to make and took much reluctance and procrastination to finish. At this point I knew I would probably make more for friends, my partner in particular. He constantly asked for one and finally I gathered up the motivation to make another. But this time, when I went into the garage to get the sturdy wire, it was gone. I looked for it in vain, thus began looking for an alternate material. Down on the garage floor lay a roll of dirty chicken wire (Hence the birth of the modern room guardian). With the armature becoming so simple, the task of creating these creatures became less daunting and eventually enjoyable. The hollow body also allowed for me to add in hearts for the guardians. The idea to sell the room guardians came to life and blossomed.