In our latest issues, we announced the passing of Marcia Backstrom, the talented doll maker who was a staple in the mini world. We had a short piece by Connie Sauve in the Jan-Feb issue of Dollhouse Miniatures, but we couldn't fit in everything that we'd been hoping to. Connie put in a lot of time interviewing Marcia's mother, June; Marcia's husband, Dan; and various other mini friends. Here is a more complete version of Connie's writing as well as some extra quotes by friends and family. See Marcia's original obituary from the Pittsburgh Tribune here.
Note: You can click on any photo to see a larger version. It will open in a new window.
Doll artist Marcia Backstrom passed away Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011, following a long battle with ovarian cancer. She was the beloved wife of Dan Backstrom and had two boys, Eric and Steven, and a pet dog, Emmy. Marcia graduated from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Arts in art education. Marcia taught art for four years before she started making dolls. Her career in miniature dolls began when her aunt needed occupants for her new dollhouse. For twenty-two years, this versatile doll artist has been designing, sculpting, and costuming expressive miniature dolls. The diversity of her 1:12-scale colorful characters is remarkable. An I.G.M.A. Fellow, Marcia worked in a style that belonged to her alone. With her mother, June's, help, they soon discovered the world of miniatures. She worked out of her home and traveled to various shows around the country with her mother, displaying her creative dolls. Her father, Joe, helped by pouring her resin doll kits. After 20 years in the industry, she became known as one of the top artists in the miniature doll world. Marcia’s creations can be found in homes and museums the world over, in places such as the Puppenhausmuseum in Switzerland, the Toy and Miniatures Museum of Kansas City, the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys, the U.S. Supreme Court Museum, and many others. She has been published numerous times in miniature and doll magazines in the United States and abroad.
I talked with Dan, and he said, "I was very proud of her. She was a wonderful woman. Her faith was the key to her life and carried her through the whole difficult times. Her dolls were a blessing to her and she considered them a gift from God. She had so much energy, and loved making her dolls.” Sometimes he had a difficult time getting her away from them. He remembers women looking at her dolls and smiling. “She made so many people happy."
Left: Three stunning young Art Deco damsels epitomize the 1930s as the age of elegance and sophistication within Bluette Meloney's Art Deco Egyptian Theater Lobby (published in DHM8 [March-April 2009]). Waiter/butler in proper evening attire.
I also talked with June, Marcia's mother, who said, "I lost my shopping partner. She will be remembered for her dolls. I just want everyone to know what a wonderful daughter she was. She had a beautiful life. Her artistic talent came out for the whole world to see. The dolls were her life and she enjoyed every minute of it. She just couldn't wait to get into her workroom. She has given me the opportunity to see the United States, too. Marcia did very few shows herself; I always had a joke that I had her tied in the basement so she couldn't go anywhere, so she could work, then I could do the shows. She and I had a wonderful time and we were so lucky to have her for 58 years. She was an artist from the time she was born. I knew she had talent. She not only was an artist in doll making, she played the piano, she played the guitar, and she did wonderful paintings. She was just an all-around artist. She was a warrior and a fighter. I just miss her so much."
When asked about the resin doll kits that Marcia also sold, June said, "I think we might keep them up, in the future. My other daughter wants to make about 40-50 resin kits a year, so anybody who wants to make their own dolls can. Falcon also has the rights to sell about 15 of Marcia's resin dolls that she designed. She traveled to Thailand and taught the girls there to dress the dolls. They are sold all over the world." Marcia will live on in her dolls.
"I met Marcia Backstrom at the Philadelphia show when it was across from Valley Forge," says Janet Middlebrook, fellow doll artist. “Carole Kaye commissioned Marcia to do a Henry the VIII doll for an exhibit to be introduced at the miniature museum once owned by the Kayes. Marcia introduced herself to me and asked if I would dress Henry....He turned out so well. Marcia and I worked on a special assignment to do the most famous Kings and Queens of England for the museum and also did dolls depicting operas.”
Several months later, on a winter afternoon, Maria called Janet to see if she wanted to do a “really special project.”
“OK, what is it?”
“I have an idea for a line of dolls taken from a book by Nicolas de Larmessin (1690).”
Janet had never heard of that book and could find no reference of it either. “So after a chat with Marcia,” Janet continues, “she explained to me the story of the street vendors of Venice and what they sold. The first street vendors made their debut at the Philadelphia Show the following November and the limited-edition series was on its way! To date, 20 vendors have been sold, with one left to be made. I am proud to say these dolls are in some of the finest museums and private collections in the world. What a fun project! Marcia and I would exchange ideas, supplies, invent new projects, along with laugh at everything! When I saw her two years ago at the Chicago Int'l, she told me of her illness and all she had been through, my heart wanted to take that bad experience away for her; as I am a cancer survivor myself, I could fully understand what she was up against. We hugged and said good-bye and promised to keep in touch. What a gal!"
I (Connie) first met Marcia many years ago at a show. Marcia's wonderfully sculpted character dolls changed the face of miniature doll-making. The diversity and detail in her dolls’ faces and costuming set the standard for excellent doll-making. She was such a huge part of the miniature world, and her friendly smile and generosity will be missed by all.
"She was great,” says Shellie Kazan. “I spent a little bit of time in Bespaq's booth, helping her come up with ideas for her dolls. We were looking at mirrors and thought, why not a fat lady looking in the mirror trying to get her girdle up? Or we were looking at chaise lounges, thinking, why not a fat lady eating cake, laying down and gorging herself? We laughed and laughed at the funny ideas we were coming up with. She was such a hoot. She kept us in stitches."
Marcia once commented, "I really enjoy the charm of the miniature world. Miniaturists have a wonderful sense of play and fantasy that is very addictive. I think more than anything it is people sharing with me—and catching their enthusiasm—that has sparked the creativity in me to make dolls.”
Below, left to right: Chinese lady; Cleaning lady; Jester; Karmina; Ventriloquist, all from AM85. Final photo is another scene from Bluette Meloney's Art Deco Egyptian Theater Lobby, published in DHM8.