Shelley Thornton: Textile Art Dolls

Shelley Thornton: Textile Art Dolls

Monday, June 3, 2019 to Friday, September 13, 2019

Gallery hours are Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

The gallery will be closed on the following holidays:

July 4, 2019 (Independence Day)
September 2, 2019 (Labor Day)

The work of Lincoln, Nebraska native and lifelong artist Shelley Thornton is currently on exhibit in the Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery, through September 6, 2019. A printmaking and graphic design graduate of what is now the Hixon-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts at UNL, Thornton turned to the medium of textiles in the early 1990s, and since that time has established herself as one of the leading dollmakers working in the US.

Thornton’s passions for fabric, clothing design and sewing converged in her one-of-a-kind cloth art dolls whose embroidered, needle-sculpted faces, wooden ball joints, and unique stuffed cloth hair embody a signature style for which she is widely recognized. “Shelley Thornton possesses a one-of-a-kind sensibility when it comes to fabric,” says TMFD Chair and Hillestad Gallery Director Michael James, who, two years ago, invited the artist to mount the show in her hometown. “She knows intuitively just which fabrics will bring out the best in one another, and she uses them inventively in her dolls’ wardrobes. The results are disarmingly satisfying and surprising.”  The artist was awarded membership in the prestigious National Institute of American Doll Artists in 1995. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including in England, Belgium, Russia, Japan and Ukraine, among others.

Thornton’s twenty-eight inch figures are meticulously costumed, transforming her alluring textiles into collages of patterns and colors that help to define her dolls’ personae. The outfits contribute to each doll’s individual biography, whether it’s to identify a particular occupation or to reference an historical character or event. For example, “Harriet”, paint brush in hand, sports a Thomas Gainsborough facsimile on her painter’s apron; “Hildy” offers a freshly collected hen’s egg, the bounty of her daily chores.  “For many years I have gathered fabrics that, to me, are heart-stopping in their dramatic appeal,” says the artist. “In the dolls, my intention is to render a human shape that can serve as a familiar, approachable canvas on which to express the sentiments of comfort, serenity, compassion and optimism.”

 In addition to the dozen or so dolls on view in the Hillestad Gallery, the exhibit features a full-size “crazy” quilt, a fabric self-portrait by the artist, and a full-wall digital projection that Thornton, new to animation, created as a fanciful interpretation of her home  studio and the central place that dollmaking occupies in it. Complementing the collection of work in the gallery is a digital slide show running continuously on the gallery monitor, documenting additional examples from the artist’s dollmaking portfolio.

The Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery hosts a diverse roster of exhibitions throughout the year, including shows of graduate and undergraduate student work and exhibitions drawn from the department’s historic costume and historic textiles collections, numbering over 5000 objects. The gallery is located on the second floor of the Human Sciences Building on east campus, at 1650 N. 35th Street, part of the East Campus Loop (map at Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday - Friday and by appointment. Admission is always free. Visitors may park in available visitor slots near the Human Sciences Building or in metered stalls located in the Nebraska East Union lot. For additional information, go to the gallery’s website at .

Exhibition Reviews:

Kent Wolgamott, Lincoln Journal Star

Shelley Thornton.  Image credit:  Barbra Porter.

Screenshot view from the animation by Shelley Thornton that backdrops her exhibition in the Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery through September 6, 2019.