After her long career as a doll designer, Wendy Lawton became an agent and vice president with the much-respected literary agency, Books & Such. She represents some of the finest writers in the industry including many bestselling authors. She’s served on the faculty of several major writers conferences, won the infamous Bulwer-Lytton competition and authored thirteen books.
Can you tell us a little about Lawton Dolls?
The Lawton Doll Company was the last porcelain doll factory in America before we closed officially in 2016. For more than three decades, we created more than 300 different limited edition dolls from our California workshops. Those editions translate to more than 85,000 intricately handmade porcelain dolls that now reside in public and private collections all over the world. In addition to those Lawton-issued dolls, collectors around the world purchased more than half a million Ashton-Drake/Wendy Lawton designed dolls.
Our dolls received many honors over the years including being nominated for more than sixty industry awards, winning the prestigious DOTY (Doll of the Year) Award eleven times, and Dolls of Excellence Award three times. In 2004, I was granted an honorary doctorate from Wilmington University, and in 2006, received the Lifetime Achievement award from Dolls magazine.
I understand that the first doll you made was of your daughter. What inspired you to do so and how did this lead to the start of Lawton Dolls?
We waited a very long time for a child and when we finally adopted three-day-old Rebecca, we couldn’t stop marveling at this beautiful little miracle. I’d fall in love with her chubby little legs on one day and the next day it would be her heart-shaped lips. Having an art background, I knew I had to capture those features forever—babyhood is so fleeting. For me—a lifetime lover of dolls—the doll was the perfect medium.
What is the thing you dislike the most in running your business? What is the best thing? What are the biggest challenges?
I disliked most of the financial aspects of running a business—insurance, payroll accounts receivable, accounts payable. . . Happily, I had wonderful partners and staff who took care of those things so I could create and do the promotion. And of course, the creation of dolls was the part I loved best.
How did becoming a mom change how you work?
I didn’t start the company until I stayed home to be with my baby. I wanted a company I could run from the kitchen table. Little did I know that it would outgrow that table before our baby was in kindergarten. By that time, my husband Keith had left his job to work in our company and we managed to cover all the bases.
Do you have any tips, resources, or tools for managing a work/life balance?
If you bring work home, let your children participate—whether it is scribbling on a paper nearby, working on a toy computer or, as in my case, handing them a cool lump of clay to sculpt along with mommy.
Don’t feel guilty about working hard. My good friend, [an] author, says that her kids watched her working hard day after day at her writing. Sometimes she felt guilty about working instead of playing with the children but each one of her grown children credit her with teaching them to dream big and then to work hard to achieve those dreams.
What creative activities did you like to do with your kid(s)?
I would take my children with me—one at a time—to appearances and let them help me. They loved that and learned [how] to present at trade shows or [they met] collectors at Walt Disney World. One daughter ended up getting her degree in marketing and the other feels totally at home giving lectures before her college students.
Do you have any advice for moms thinking about taking the plunge?
When you do what you love, you are a happier person and a better mom. Involve your children in what you do and stay involved in what they do.
Do you recommend any resources (websites, organizations, books, etc) for people interested in pursuing a similar career?
The doll industry is now a tough one since Millennials are not into collecting at this point. It remains to be seen if the field of high end collectibles [will] see a rebirth. But the world is much better for artists with the advent of options like Etsy and internet stores. Plus, social media makes art and craft marketing so much more affordable.
How did you manage the day-to-day process of making your art/working/etc. with children?
My studio was located on our home property so I was there when the children got off the bus. When I traveled, Keith or my mother took up the slack.
Which of your work are you most proud of and why?
That’s hard to say. I have many favorites. I love the doll called Almost Home that illustrated the book I wrote about Mary Chilton of the Mayflower, also titled Almost Home. I enjoyed creating Columbine and Harlequin.
If I could have a superpower, it would be super metabolism — consuming calories at the speed of light.
A famous person I would love to meet is Harriet Tubman.
Beauty inspires me.
The thing I love best about California is the fresh fruit and vegetables.
If I weren’t a doll maker, I would be a literary agent.
If I had an extra 2 hours in the day, I’d read more.