Deborah Grayson Bailey: My, She’s Fly!


Name: Deborah Grayson Bailey
Execu-gig: Artist and Designer
Execu-counsel gig: Creator of Urban Wildflower dolls, collective works of art

What is the inspiration behind Urban Wildflower Dolls?

Actual wildflowers are what inspire me. I love them because they seem to pop up in the most unexpected places to bless us with their beauty. While living in Georgia I have been particularly struck by the frequency with which I see wildflowers thriving in unexpected places, [such as] in the medians dividing streets and expressways and growing in the cracks of side walks. I love the contrast of the vibrant color and expressiveness of the flowers against the rigidity and roughness of seemingly unwelcome environments. Wherever wildflowers are planted they seem to thrive and grow. A metaphor for women everywhere –especially women of color, don’t you think? Obviously my dolls aren’t living beings but for me they embody resiliance, beauty and playfulness.

Is your “day job” your passion?

This quote sits above one of the computer screens on my desk:

A person who is a master in the art of living makes little distinction between their work and their play, their labor and their leisure, their minds and their body, their education and their recreation, their loves and their religion. They hardly know which is which and simply pursue their vision of excellence and grace, whatever they do; leaving others to decide whether they are working or playing. To them they are always doing both. –Unknown Zen Poet

This quote sums up how i feel about work. I love my day job because it allows me freedom, creativity and the ability to help and serve people. Plus my day job allows me the flexibility to not have to create paintings to match someone’s sofa!

The images (of dolls who look like our children) you invoke with your dolls provide an invaluable resource for mothers of color. Is this a factor in your doll-making process, or do you simply honor your creative muse and produce what inspires you?

Both! I think we are so beautiful. I try to capture this beauty in my work. My dolls are collectible works of art, not toys but I find that both women and girls of all ages and hues love my work. Interestingly my biggest collectors are men! They buy my dolls for themselves because my work reminds them of someone special or they buy the dolls for women they love and cherish.

I took a special interest in the Spirit Dolls. What feedback have you received from people about that particular doll family?

Well, I am a deeply spiritual person. Someone once told me that my gift is in my hands and I think I believe that. Creating is a form of prayer for me. I have seen my work move and inspire people. In many cultures of the world, especially within the African Diaspora, dolls are objects of culture, spirit and ritual. I would like to think I am embracing the legacy that the ancestors left me in my work. I often stitch prayers inside the dolls. The response I have gotten from this particular type of doll has been moving and overwhelming. One story in particular still stands out for me:

I did a holiday show last December. An older woman who is an avid doll collector bought one of my dolls. I remember her because she went right to the doll she wanted, picked her up and handed me the money. About three weeks this same woman called me and started out by telling me how much she loved the doll she purchased and then she told me that she gave the doll away. Across the street from her lived a young woman who lived with her mother and her own young daughter. The young woman had apparently been struggling with despair over life circumstances. She attempted to take her own life. Thankfully the woman survived. The woman who purchased the doll gave the doll to the woman’s daughter who is around 13 or 14. The woman who purchased the doll called to tell me that the doll was a blessing to the family. She said she wanted me to know how my work had touched this woman and her child. What we create in this world has impact. I continue to pray for that family.

How long is your process, on average, for creating a doll from start to finish?

If it is a new doll I will draw the pattern and make several test patterns with modifications before I move to working on the actual doll. Once I have the body the way I want I create interchangeable arms, legs, hands and heads. No two dolls are alike. My favorite part of the process is when I get to decide on the hair (because it’s always about the hair!), paint the faces and make the clothes. Depending on the type and size of doll (fabric, clay or some other material I have decided to try) it takes me an average of three weeks for each doll.

Where are some of the venues and Web sites that your works have been featured?

I had a cover on the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s (AJC) style section. A reporter walked up to my booth at a Doll Collectors show and said he wanted to interview me about my dolls. He asked me several questions and gave me a card. Someone took pictures of me and he said he would call. Yeah, right. Whatever. About a month later he called. That weekend I was featured in a full-color picture on the front of the AJC’s style section. The picture was so big you could count my freckles! My phone started ringing at 6:30 that Saturday morning. We didn’t kow what was going on. My husband jumped up to go buy the paper to see what all the fuss was about. When he walked in the door he said, “You are not going to believe this.” LOL. People *still* call me because of that article.

I have been featured twice in the South Fulton Neighbor.

I had a doll and a quilt hanging in the Washingon Historical Society exhibit, Quilts for Obama. I was thrilled when I was invited to be in the show by Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, the president of the Women of Color Quilter’s Network. I was even more excited that my family was able to attend the opening.

My work was featured in the African Mermaids and Merwomen exhibit at the Avery Research Center and Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina. I also had work in the Quilting African American Wiomen’s History Exhibit. One of my quilts is featured in the book by the same title.  Beyond galleries and museums I do art shows throughout the southeast. A list of upcoming appearances will be listed on my new websites this fall.

Where can your dolls be purchased? Do you also sell your quilts?

During the last year I have stepped back a little to strengthen and improve my brand. My business is growing and I want a look that reflects the quality of what I have to offer. I have a fabulous web designer (let’s hear it for vozvisual!) who has given me a look and a feel that I believe my work deserves. We will be unveiling the site this fall. My new site includes online shopping. My summer cycle has just ended. Now I am gearing up for the fall and holiday seasons. The website for my dolls is www.urbanwildflowerdolls.com. The look of the site will change but the web address will remain the same. What will be new this fall for collectors is my new quilting and mixed media site, www.graysonstudios.com. The sites are linked so that collectors can easily move between the two. We will be debuting a new and improved blog as well. I can’t WAIT.

The Execumama credo is “Define, Design and Live your fullest version of WOMAN.” How do you strive to do that in your work/your art/your daily life?

I try to live a fully integrated life. I bring my passion and my joy and my heart to everything I do. If I don’t love it, I don’t do it. I have also learned (the hard way!) that I am not super woman. No has become one of the best loved words in my vocabulary. I spend a part of everyday in quiet time and reflection. I eat well (though I back slide from time to time — potato chips are my WEAKNESS!), exercise and try to get to bed on time. I also try to maintain some sense of balance. What I have also learned to do is to carve out time just for me. Last thing, I love to READ. Right now I am reading:  Bryant Terry, Vegan Soul Kitchen, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun, and Mary Pattillo-McCoy, Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class.

Okay, I have talked enough. Last thing. I want to give a shout out to my husband a very patient man who has learned to check chairs before sitting to make sure that there are no straight pins, steps over my latest art project spread out on the floor without blinking, and most importantly, has learned to love (that may be stretching it a bit) and live with dolls.