Shannon Byrnes brings her love of dolls to a workshop held at the Smithers Art Gallery.

Shannon Byrnes brings her love of dolls to a workshop held at the Smithers Art Gallery.

Valley of the dolls

In history, dolls have played numerous functions — from being a common plaything for children to being made to resemble religious figures — but for Shannon Byrnes they’re a form of art.

Her fascination with the medium of artistic dolls began seven years ago when she was in Naramata, B.C. While there she noticed a workshop being put on by one of the locals.

Already an artist, dolls just drew her attention, she said.  In the past she’s worked with paint, needlework, felting, crocheting and sculptures amongst them, and it’s a talent shared by her grandmother.

That was seven years ago, and since then it’s something she’s really grown into and explored further, teaching others as well.

“The response I get from other people, when I teach, that’s been a huge inspiration,” Byrnes said.

An art therapist, she often takes doll-making to her clients, as well as setting up workshops in the past.

The process itself begins with constructing a skeleton, usually made out of wire or pipe cleaner. From there, you take the skeleton and wrap it with fabrics to build up the character.

“It’s very easy and accessible for anyone,” Byrnes said.

Most of her materials have been given to her or thrift store finds, she said. Her grandmother, an avid crafter and artist herself, often gives Byrnes some of her leftover materials from her quilts or other pieces.

Her current show is not her first, but it is her first in Smithers. It was about a year ago when her and friend of hers began working on the idea of having a show designed to showcase numerous dolls made by Byrnes.

The show is meant to show that whatever one’s notions of a doll is, there’s always another interpretation. Doll-making may not be one of the more popular art forms, however it’s one that allows Byrnes a large amount of freedom.

“There’s something about it that’s different than other arts for me,” Byrnes said. “It’s more precious, I guess, the process itself in the wrapping that is inherently healing and soothing.”

There’s also something about all the small details that really makes it meaningful, she said. Dolls tend to go back to one’s childhood, Byrnes said, so already there’s a connection between her piece of art and the viewer.  What’s interesting is finding out what connection it is that they’ve made.

“I find that they really bring out these different sides of people, or maybe bring out that playfulness, that childhood playfulness,” Byrnes said.

And each doll comes with their own story, written out for people to see. One, dubbed abandon, is made up of the materials used to create her: art materials, needles, a paintbrush; all are attached to her as she dangles from the air on what may be interpreted as a trapeze.

Another, Persephone, depicts the Greek myth of the young woman who is the Queen of the underworld, seduced by Hades by the offering of a pomegranate.

“She’s got a pomegranate heart,” Byrnes said.

All of her works are currently being shown this month at the All Dolled Up exhibit at the Smithers Art Gallery, alongside This Neck of the Woods, a collection of paintings by Judy McCloskey.

Both artists will be on hand at the open house this Friday.