South East Open Studios is one of the most established annual arts events in the UK, each year almost 300 artists and makers open their doors to share their creative work spaces with the public in Kent, Sussex and the Surrey borders.
This year's event featured two doll makers representing the British Toymakers Guild, Ophelia Dolls and Polly had a Dolly, a stones throw from one another in the villages of Hawkhurst and Staplehurst in Kent.
Fellow guild members, The Rocking Horse Shop in York made a guest appearance with one of their beautiful hardwood, hand carved, decorative Appaloosa style rocking horses at Ophelia Dolls studio and Fern the Ophelia Doll was the lucky doll that got to ride her!
Visitors were taken back in time to a period where quality handcrafted toys were passed down through generations, a time before plastic and its mass produced, throwaway culture existed. This is where The British Toymakers Guild members have time and space to shine.
When you stop to look at the decorative rocking horse you soon realise that it is indeed hand carved wood, finished with top grade leather bridle and saddlery, horsehair mane and tail, solid brass buckles, brackets and stirrups, made with the same specification as the larger rocking horses. The small scale details take your breath away.
Sitting atop was an extremely elated looking Ophelia Doll named Fern, with her hands wound around the reins she appeared as though she was having the time of her life. Her legs didn't quite reach the stirrups but that didn't bother her one bit as she sat proudly on the comfy saddle, greeting the visitors. She thought they were the perfect match.
People came and reminisced about their childhoods with such toys and we enjoyed their stories and shared their values. During our conversations it dawned on me that we are facing an ecological crisis and therefore, surely a move back to using quality natural materials is needed now more than ever. Providing our children with toys made from quality natural materials has the potential to connect them with the natural world in a profound and important way. They can literally hold nature in their hands, feel the wood and the wool.
At the end of the 17 days we waved goodbye to the beautiful Appaloosa horse and just knew that he would find himself a lovely new home somewhere and with someone that appreciated all his finery.
Written by Rachel Murrell, Ophelia Dolls