A Perfect Union: Doll Artists Lynne & Michael Roche
By Barrie and Danny Shapiro
As people who love fine artist dolls, we admire artists who invest themselves totally in their craft. Rather than creating a mold for mass production or buying off-the-shelf parts, they design and create every joint, every hair, every curve and every thread for each one of their dolls. This is a labor of love that results in the closest realization of the artist's vision. Lynne and Michael Roche are English artists who bring that kind of love to their dollmaking. Their story is three decades long and is as remarkable as their creations.
At first glance, the path that led the Roches to create dolls might appear random. But looking back, it had its foundation in the finest of the antique-doll world. Lynne Roche earned a degree in fine arts, with an interest in painting. She took jobs with Covent Garden, as well as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. She met Michael Roche when he worked refinishing antique furniture. This demanding craft required delicate handwork and a feel for the wood.
After they married in 1978, Lynne began to deal in textiles and clothing. It was here that Lynne was introduced to antique dolls and made her first attempt to reproduce one - a 19th-century French doll by E.J. Jumeau. Even at the beginning, Lynne set high standards for her work. Creating reproductions was akin to studying under master dollmakers, giving her insight into their work that would influence her own original dolls.
When Lynne and Michael moved to Bath, they opened a doll shop called The China Doll to sell their reproductions of antique French and German bébés. They installed their own kiln for firing porcelain. Without conscious intent, they had put all the pieces in place to create their own original dolls. Lynne brought her painting skills, artistic vision, and experience with textiles. Michael, ever a perfectionist, brought his woodworking skills and natural problem-solving abilities. The facilities and their diverse experiences created a perfect union for dollmaking, and their creations have been prized by collectors since 1981.
Most Roche dolls combine a lime wood body with porcelain head and hands. Lime wood is an ideal choice, as it is evenly colored, has a subtle grain, and is well-suited for delicate carving and finishing. Michael creates each body by hand in his home workshop. He has refined his body designs throughout the years, developing several styles to depict different ages. One thing has remained constant — a Roche doll is beautiful, even undressed!
Lynne sculpts the porcelain faces and delicately tints them with a fair English complexion. She artfully paints the simple details of each face, including, in many cases, the eyes. When Lynne uses glass eyes, she chooses fine hand-blown glass eyes that are truly captivating. Lynne also designs the hairstyle for each doll, and the wigs are custom-made.
The Roches both believe that dolls should invite you to play with them. Jointing is crucial to achieving this, and one of Michael's earliest challenges was to develop his own ball-jointing system. Roche dolls stand on their own and are easy to pose, dress and undress. You can play with every Roche doll!
With her background in fine textiles, Lynne's original clothing is a signature characteristic of every Roche doll. The styles are timeless and rich in texture, color and detail. Lynne designs the outfits along with her dolls, not afterward, and the clothing enhances each one's personality and story. Lynne often hand-dyes the materials to achieve the perfect hues.
As members of several guilds and associations, Lynne and Michael Roche value the artistry of others. To develop their accessories, they often work with specialty artists, including master woodworker Tim Rossiter, who creates their unique furniture and wood toys, and Stella Topping, whose teddy bears and other animal toys add another level of charm to their dolls. Even the accessories are high quality and unique to each Roche doll.
Lynne has loved dolls since childhood and remains an avid collector; that love is reflected in her work. With their history rooted in the fine design and quality materials found in the antique doll world, Lynne and Michael Roche's creations are distinct, with an air of childhood about them that invites you to play with them. A Roche doll is a classic doll in every sense of the word.
This article is reprinted with permission from DOLLS Magazine June 2012 issue
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