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Doll maker says her art is 'almost like time travel'

Melissa Belanger has been making dolls nearly her whole life.

But the red stuffed bear she made when she was four is a far cry from the stylish figures she creates in her Hudson studio today.

Belanger drew the pattern and stitched her first doll, "Flossy." Her mother applied a second set of stitches to hold the bear's seams securely.

By the time she was 15 or 16, Belanger was making dolls to sell.

"It's something I just keep going back to," said Belanger, sitting surrounded by her creations in the upstairs studio above her home on Second Street.

Her studio will be one stop on the Art Opener, a May 13-14 art tour through the St. Croix Valley. Tour hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.

These days, Belanger seldom names her dolls, most of which capture the style of the 1930s and 1920s.

"I like things that have a past. I love old movies and historical fiction and old graphics," said Belanger. She finds inspiration in images from the early 1900s, Vaudeville, film noir and vintage toys.

"It's almost like time travel for me. It's my version of different eras."

Each figure is hand sculpted out of Paperclay (a fine grade papier-m?ché), attached to a cloth-covered armature and dressed with clothing made from vintage fabrics and trim. Most of the dolls are 16 to 24 inches tall.

Belanger has a degree in art education from UW-Eau Claire and taught middle school art classes in Altoona for two years. When she got married and moved to Hudson, she was ready for a break from school.

"I miss teaching and I did love it, but I didn't have free time," said Belanger. "I felt that all my creativity went into teaching."

Now she uses her creativity - and her time - to garden and paint "in the style of my dolls."

"I do a little bit of everything," she said Friday. But it always comes back to the dolls.

She has made a series of mechanical dolls - one that lifts weights and another that pulls a rabbit from a hat. She also does seasonal dolls, tiny dolls and dolls made of old porch spindles.

She usually sells at only one place, Seasons on St. Croix, and no longer takes special orders.

"I just don't want to get overwhelmed."

Belanger said holding on to her freedom allows her to create dolls that are unique and made with thoughtfulness.

Art opener

Wisconsin stops on the St. Croix Valley Fine Art Tour are:

  • Studio Doll Art, 1014 Second St., Hudson; resident artist Melissa Belanger (doll maker); guest artists Eric and Molly Gunderson (mixed media sculpture).
  • Seasons on St. Croix Gallery, 310 Second St., Hudson; resident potters Joe Christensen, Jude Ryan Reiling and Dyann Myers; guest potters Peter Jadoonath, Scott Zeinert and Steve Hemingway; resident glassblowers Patrick Casanova and Nolan Prohaska.
  • Sigwarth Glass, 586 Wyngate Drive, River Falls; resident glassblowers Douglas and Renee Sigwarth; guest artists Julie Burkhart-Haid (jeweler) and Jon Michael Route (metal sculptor).

    For other stops, more information and a map, go to on the Internet.

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