The R. John Wright Workshop Is Located In Bennington, Vermont
About R. John Wright & Susan Wright - Master Toymakers
The Toy Shoppe has had the pleasure of offering the work of R. John Wright since 1979. When Danny Shapiro, the founder of The Toy Shoppe, first saw John and Susan's work he was impressed with the great charm and fine craftsmanship exhibited. Each piece created by R. John Wright continues to display the virtuosity of the artist when considering fine and original design, beautiful craftsmanship and the use of beautiful materials of exceptional quality. As work of this nature can only be produced in small quantities, each piece is all the more special.
Originality of Design
Every great object created begins with design. R. John Wright's design often originates with source material from famous children's illustrations as John and Susan have a great love for well-known characters from classic children's books. What is most impressive in this endeavor is that each piece created from these illustrations remains true to the original artwork. Each is truly the definitive interpretation of these most famous childhood characters. Their designs are also inspired by nature. The realism with which they create their bears, mice and other animals is matched only by their ability to introduce such character and personality in them without resorting to caricaturish extremism.
Established in 1976, the company has produced work based on the most famous illustrations of all time, including Ernest Shepherd's Winnie-the-Pooh, Jessie Wilcox Smith's storybook characters, Johnny Gruelle's Raggedy Ann and Andy, Walt Disney's Classics, Saint Exupery's The Little Prince, Beatrix Potter's animal kingdom, Rose O'Neill's Kewpie, Michael Bond's Paddington and Sir John Tenniel's Alice in Wonderland.
The making of an heirloom piece in our estimation is synonymous with fine craftsmanship. We have often seen an artist's fine design destroyed in manufacture. This is definitely NOT the case with R. John Wright. At the R. John Wright workshop and studio in Vermont, a highly skilled team of trained artisans puts each limited edition into production. Each piece that comes from the R. John Wright workshop is beautifully detailed and finished. Because of the complexity of these original designs, innovative techniques must be devised to insure that each piece in the edition remains consistent and uniform. Technically speaking, as charming as the early R. John Wright work was, the newer pieces are much more complex and innovative. Due to these technical innovations in manufacture, the designs are now brought to life in a way that they never could have been 20 years ago.
Each accessory that comes with an R. John Wright creation is also of original design. John and Susan are not content to merely use an existing object as an accessory. When the object cannot be created in their workshop due to the material or specialized skills desired, the company works with master craftsmen in their respective fields to custom make the final pieces.
We believe that these factors have been important in contributing to the already established higher value of earlier R. John Wright work.
Felt has been the material of choice from the earliest R. John Wright dolls. Felt is an extremely difficult material with which to work. In the history of fine toy making, we can count Steiff and Lenci as amongst the leaders in the use of felt. R. John Wright has gone beyond each of these makers in his use of this complex media. We particularly love the artistic manner with which felt is used to create beautiful objects of nature, including leaves, fruits and vegetables.
Heirloom Quality Toys
At The Toy Shoppe, we believe that true collectibility is earned by the maker's dedication and commitment to design, craftsmanship and material usage. Rarity is naturally implied, as work of this nature cannot be mass-produced. The market has already well recognized the collectible nature of the work by R. John Wright. We believe this will easily continue to be the case.
The History Of R. John Wright
R. John Wright - The Winding Road Of Creativity
Naturally artistic, R. John Wright always felt his path would lead to a creative career. Born in Michigan, John attended Wayne State University in a liberal arts program with an emphasis on art and literature. Following college, John traveled to New England and settled in New Hampshire.
While browsing in a bookstore, John came across a book, The Doll, authored by Carl Fox. Intrigued with the profusion of photographs featuring antique dolls and having recently made the acquaintance of porcelain dollmaker, Gail Duggan, John began to contemplate the possibility of a career in doll making. Two years later, he met his future wife and creative partner, Susan, who was a recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. Little did she suspect that her meeting with John would redirect her talents and destiny to doll making. The couple settled in Brattleboro, Vermont in 1974.
In 1976, when he was abruptly laid off from his job as a clerk in the town hardware store, John decided to try his hand at doll making. That afternoon he began to sew a crude figure - his first doll - out of the only fabric at hand, a piece of pale yellow flannel. John had never sewn anything before, but this first effort came quickly and the process seemed to hold much potential - he could only get better! Before the first doll was completed, he was already thinking of the improvements he would make on the second one.
Within a few weeks of having been employed as a clerk in the hardware store, John made a group of six similarly constructed men dolls out of flesh-colored felt. These dolls featured rudimentary rustic-style clothing and sheep's wool hair and beards. He took these first dolls to a crafts gallery downtown where they were purchased on the spot to retail for the price of $28 each. During the next six months, John made and sold over a hundred of these primitive felt dolls to area craft stores. Susan increasingly helped John with the production and together they embarked on an intense period of research. Within six months the dolls advanced beyond the primitive stage and featured joints and more sophisticated clothing and accessories.
The doll work soon overtook the couple's small ground-floor apartment turned into a makeshift doll factory. Exhibition in juried craft shows throughout New England provided the expanding wholesale and retail orders for the dolls. They soon began hiring assistants to come to the apartment and help with the ever-increasing work load. One year after making his first doll, John sculpted the faces which would become his first molded felt dolls. Designs soon followed depicting Character Dolls with ethnically-inspired costumes and accessories.
The delightful Little Children Series premiered in 1980 around the time of the birth of the Wright's first child. The child dolls introduced a new look from R. John Wright and the demand from collectors increased. The business moved to Cambridge, New York where a highly skilled workforce was trained and specialized machinery developed to increase production.
In 1985, R. John Wright Dolls, Inc. exhibited their work at International Toy Fair in New York City. At this show, the first prototype of Christopher Robin & Winnie-the-Pooh was shown produced under license to the Walt Disney Company. Over the next decade all of the animal characters from the Hundred Acre Wood were also produced. In 2003, an exciting new Winnie-the-Pooh Collection made exclusively for Japan was launched.
The following years brought a succession of many captivating child dolls as well as licensed characters from classic Disney films: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio.
In 1998, R. John Wright introduced Peter Rabbit, the first in an exciting series based on the characters of Beatrix Potter. Soon to follow were Jemima Puddle-duck and Benjamin Bunny and many other delightful Potter characters - each meticulously detailed and crafted out of mohair in numbered limited editions.
In 1999, the company introduced the R. John Wright Kewpie. Created by Rose O'Neill in 1909, this represented the first time that the Kewpie character was made in the medium of molded felt.
Paddington And Beyond
Continuing a tradition of dolls and animal characters based on classic children's literature, the company also produced Michael Bond's Paddington Bear, a delightful mohair rendition of Curious George and dolls based on Antoine de Saint Exupery's beloved character The Little Prince. The year 2002 marked the centennial celebration of the birth of the Teddy Bear and R. John Wright produced several special editions including an all-felt doll of Teddy Roosevelt.
Today, John and Susan Wright continue to head their enterprising and innovative company. The Wrights continue to oversee all phases of production which is still performed on-site, always stressing the highest quality in craftsmanship and integrity of design which for over twenty-five years have formed the cornerstone of all R. JOHN WRIGHT collectibles. Editions introduced in 2003 were an all-felt rendition of Lewis Carroll's immortal Alice based on the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel, and a figure of Santa Claus based on Thomas Nast's landmark drawings.
R. John Wright dolls and animals have been honored with numerous awards, among them: the Doll of the Year (DOTY) award; the Golden Teddy award; the Dolls magazine Award of Excellence; and Der Goldene George Award. In 1994, R. John Wright was the recipient of the Jumeau Trophy - considered by many collectors and artists as one of the most prestigious symbols of recognition for acheivement in the doll field. In 2003, the first fully-authorized comprehensive book on the work of R. John Wright, R. John Wright - The Art of Toys, was published by Portfolio Press.
Back To Vermont
In 2004, R. John Wright Dolls returned to Vermont moving their innovative and enterprising company to an idylic 17-acre setting on the outskirts of historic Bennington. The Wrights continue to oversee all phases, always stressing the highest quality materials, craftsmanship and integrity of design which for three decades have formed the cornerstones of all R. JOHN WRIGHT collectibles.
There are ongoing new additions to the Alice in Wonderland Series, the Raggedy Ann Collection, and the Beatrix Potter Collection. 2006 also brought Walt Disney's Minnie Mouse and the beloved French storybook character Becassine.
Used with permission from R. John Wright [rev 2009]