The Toy Box Philosopher
Reviews and opinions about dolls and doll-related toys.
Sunday, June 22, 2014
“Snow White” by Monika Peter-Leicht for Masterpiece Dolls
Masterpiece Dolls is a Rhode Island-based company that was founded by Shirley Blackall in 1985. The company has produced vinyl, porcelain and silicone-vinyl dolls in all sizes and styles, but is currently best know for its life-sized vinyl child dolls. The vinyl children have been sculpted by a variety of artists over the years, including Monika Levenig, Susan Lippl, and Monika Peter-Leicht.
Masterpiece dolls is great at reaching out to budding artists and is often adding new sculptors to their list. I had some brief first-hand experience with this when Masterpiece produced one of my own bizarre clay babies in vinyl for the German market. I think this was the ugliest and least popular doll ever made, but it was a neat experience…and probably a good story for another time.
Despite my interactions with this company, I have never owned a Masterpiece doll that wasn’t sculpted by me. I have been eyeing the larger Masterpiece children ever since Annette Himstedt stopped making dolls in 2009, but more out of curiosity than the desire to purchase. A recent online sale got me looking at these dolls again, and this time I did some research and accumulated enough interest to bring one of the larger girls home for review. The doll I chose is Monika Peter-Leicht’s “Snow White” from 2010. I should warn you up front, though, that by the end of the review the doll won’t look much like this anymore:
“Snow White” by Masterpiece, $239.
Before I say anything else, I have to communicate my uncertainty about the name “Masterpiece.” I used to think it was two words: Master Piece (because that’s what it looks like on the top of the website and on the doll boxes), but then I thought maybe it was MasterPiece (all one word but with the “p” capitalized…). However, the press releases on the website and most external articles and dealers refer to it as “Masterpiece.” I hope this is correct, but as I said…it’s ambiguous.
Master Piece? MasterPiece? Masterpiece??
It took me a long time to mad hatter tattooed doll decide which Masterpiece doll I should buy. I spent plenty of time on Flickr looking at collectors’ pictures, and a bit of time lurking on the doll forum, Doll Chatter. The consensus seems to be that the dolls are not as nice as they used to be, and that recent releases are seeming more and more repetitive. Part of the problem is that, of the three primary child doll sculptors, Susan Lippl hasn’t released a new doll in a while and Monika Peter-Leicht’s contributions to each new collection are getting fewer and fewer. This leaves the majority of each collection in the hands of Monika Levenig. The schedule at Masterpiece is to release new dolls every three months, which is a pretty hefty load for one artist.
I have also heard that the larger Masterpiece dolls with multiple joints are difficult to manage, that the vinyl is getting darker in color and lighter in weight, and that there have been issues with thin wigs and cracks in the plastic eyes.
I wanted to investigate as many of these things as possible, so I went looking for an older doll in the largest size range with multiple joints. I slightly prefer Monika Peter-Leicht’s dolls, so I was also looking mostly at those. There aren’t very many still-in-box dolls that meet these criteria, but I did manage to find a 42″ Snow White from 2010:
This particular doll was highly anticipated, but she didn’t sell well because Masterpiece made a last-minute change to her dress, swapping out the traditional Snow White yellow skirt for the pink you see here. In addition, even the blue parts of her dress are muted to a slate blue that almost looks purple in some light.
This doll’s box is so huge that I am not even going to photograph the whole thing. It’s just shy of four feet tall. The box is made entirely out of cardboard, and is filled with cardboard supports to hold the doll in place. All of the packaging is recyclable, save for two styrofoam braces to pad the doll’s head, and a few plastic bags covering her limbs. The side of the box is decorated with a picture of two girls playing with their dolls:
Well, the one girl is playing with a freaky little clown puppet.
When I first opened Snow White’s box, I noticed a fairly strong odor from her vinyl. This smell is still noticeable a few days later.
Snow comes with a doll stand, a certificate of authenticity, and a small (dismissible) apple accessory. Her long black wig came contained within a hairnet and a plastic bag. Here she is out of the box with her hairnet and some of the plastic removed. Her neck, legs and arms are still wrapped in white tissue paper:
Her wig is thick and long and is a deep, shiny black color:
The tissue around her neck is neatly tucked into the top of her dress:
She also has tissue wrapped around both legs, and plastic liners in between her feet and her shoes:
She isn’t wearing any socks.
The stand has a wooden base and a metal telescoping support:
Mine tips a little to one side.
The stand fits Snow well, but it also adds to her weight–making her just under 20 pounds. It is possible for her to stand on her own, but when she topples over (which happens fairly regularly) it’s a dramatic event that makes a huge noise, crumples my backdrop and runs the risk of scratching or scuffing the doll’s vinyl. Still, I was able to pose her without the stand for most of the pictures in this review.
Snow’s wig tends to look messy because of its length and waves, but it’s actually quite easy to brush out.
The fibers aren’t as silky or shiny as American Girl or Karito Kid wigs, but it’s a nice quality, thick wig in a deep lustrous black color that fits the Snow White character perfectly:
The dealer told me that this is one of the nicest wigs she’s seen on these dolls.
Snow has a red satin ribbon tied in her hair, with a bow perched at the top of her head. The bow is stitched to the wig, but the rest of the ribbon is loose.
The length of this hair is fun to play with, but it seems too long for the size and features of this doll. Snow is about the height of a four-year-old child, and her face has a babyish appearance:
Grown-up hair on a baby face.
I tied the hair back into a simple ponytail to keep it under control during the review:
It falls into beautiful waves and makes a very pretty ponytail:
As a random aside: with her hair pulled back like this, the doll reminds me of Ginnifer Goodwin’s pixie-haired Snow White character from the television show, Once Upon A Time:
Many of the Masterpiece child dolls have expressive faces with big smiles or visible teeth. Some of the smiling dolls are extremely well-done and realistic (like “Mia,” “Let’s Play Dress Up Again” and “Tori”), but these dolls tend to be difficult to find and expensive on the secondary market. A few of the smiling dolls don’t look as good (“Alana” and the new twins “Ani” and “Suri” leap to mind…). I contemplated buying one of the larger smiling girls (Pamela or Leandra) but ended up feeling safer with Snow’s neutral expression:
She has a lovely, calm face with large detailed lips and wide eyes. She has a few areas where her proportions are odd, though. First of all, in profile, you can see that her jawline curves downward on the right side of her face, and her ears are very large:
There’s also a funny contour around her right eye that’s apparent from some angles. I think it’s that there’s no defined cheekbone, but just a gradual slope from the eye socket to the center of the cheek:
I should pause here to qualify these criticisms. I don’t expect artists to sculpt facial proportions exactly right. In fact, it’s the small quirks and imperfections that make the difference between a mannequin and a work of art. With art, the interpretation or caricature of a human face can be much more interesting than a perfect replica. However, I’m not sure I would classify this doll as art. The original sculpture would be, certainly, but not the doll in the way it was manufactured and presented for sale. I’ll come back to this a little later.
Despite a few funny angles, Snow White has some wonderful details in her face. Her lips are slightly parted with the hint of a visible tongue:
Her nostrils and upper lip are highlighted with red paint. This looks strange up close, but looks very natural–like little shadows–from a distance.
She has a tiny bubble defect in the vinyl of her nose.
Snow has large blue eyes with upper and lower lashes. Her eyebrows are beautifully drawn with a realistic feathered pattern:
The eyes have a nice mix of brown, blue and black. They are made out of acrylic, though, and my doll has multiple large cracks in the corners of both eyes.
From some reaction with the vinyl??
I actually knew that this doll had cracked eyes when I bought her. The dealer was very honest with me and even provided pictures of the cracks. I didn’t get a discount on the doll, though, which I think is a shame. I don’t blame the dealer at all–this is Masterpiece’s responsibility. They should have fixed the eyes or passed along a discount to the dealers. I bought this doll with the intention of changing her eyes, and (as much as I like art projects) I don’t usually purchase $200 dolls that I know I will have to fix.
Most Masterpiece dolls come in ordinary age-appropriate children’s clothing, but the fairy tale series dolls all come in costumes befitting their story. Snow White is wearing a floor-length dress with a full petticoat and bloomers.
The bodice of the dress is made out of a slate blue fabric with little embroidered flowers. It has full, puffy half sleeves with pink cuffs. All of the edges are lined with white lace.
The front of the bodice is decorated with a red twisted rope that is arranged in a corset pattern, complete with metal eyes to hold the rope in place:
The dress opens in the back with four large buttons.
The bodice is fully lined in lightweight white fabric:
Under the dress on the back of Snow’s neck, there’s a copyright mark, a print of Monika Peter-Leicht’s signature, and my particular doll’s edition number:
She is #100 in an edition of 350.
The skirt is made out of a lightweight pink cotton (cotton blend?):
The skirt is ruched on one side, exposing a layered lacy patch on the petticoat:
Other than the one lacy area, the petticoat is plain white with a lace hem:
There are four layers of stiff net sewn to the lower part of the petticoat:
The petticoat is separate from the pink and blue dress–in fact the dress looks nice with or without the undergarments. The petticoat has an elastic waistband for easy dressing and undressing.
Under the petticoat, Snow is wearing simple white bloomers with gathered elastic cuffs:
Her shoes are imitation patent leather. They are very thin and papery in feel, but I like the style:
The shoes have velcro straps and each is decorated with a plastic rhinestone ornament:
The shoes have stitched details, but are mostly glued together. Traces of the yellowed glue can be seen along the inside edges of each shoe:
The outfit is fine, and seems durable, but I don’t think it adds anything special to the doll. Because these dolls are large enough to wear real children’s clothing, I suspect many of them are redressed by their owners. I know that I purchased Snow with ideas about how I would redress her.
The articulation of Masterpiece dolls has changed quite a lot over the years, and there are multiple articulation options within each collection. Snow White has eleven joints, but I don’t think the movement of these joints is exactly the same as it is on the current dolls.
Snow is strung with white elastic and all of her joints are held together with this elastic except for her hips. Her hips are set into her torso and have simple rotational movement.
Snow has a funny profile from head to toe. I like her little belly, but it’s hard to get her to balance when she’s standing straight up, and so she often looks tipped over and subsequently pot-bellied:
If I use her long arms as counterweights, I can get her to stand up a little straighter:
This position makes her belly look better:
Snow’s shoulder joints can rotate around, but they can’t move away from her body very much. She also can’t hold her arms up very well. The few pictures I have where she has raised arms were very tricky to set up.
Her elbows are ball jointed and have a bit more movement.
The upper and lower arm pieces are cut at an angle near the joint. This allows the lower arm to bend about 20 degrees towards the body:
The lower arm can also be rotated around so that it can bend about 10 degrees away from the body:
The two arm pieces intersect around a large ball. This joint can be surprisingly unobtrusive in some positions, but if the elbow is crooked or twisted at a funny angle, the joint is unattractive.
The wrists can rotate all of the way around, but they don’t have much bending movement. The pictures below show the full extent of their bending flexibility:
The hands are nicely detailed on both sides, with small palm lines and painted fingernails:
She has a mild case of banana fingers.
Snow’s hips are angle-cut, and so she can’t sit without her legs splaying all of the way out to the sides. This makes her excellent at the side-to-side splits, but she can’t sit in a chair or on the ground with her knees or feet anywhere near each other.
The hip articulation was a huge disappointment to me. This doll is shown on the website sitting beautifully , but I have no idea how they managed to do this. I think she must not be sitting down as much as it appears–just half-sitting on a small stool, perhaps? That big skirt can hide a lot of things.
Snow can also do the front-to-back splits, and her knees can rotate to help make this position look more natural:
While the knees can rotate nicely, they don’t have a lot of bending motion. Also, they can’t hold any bent poses without support–the joint will just snap back into a straight position.
I have to hold the leg in this position.
Her feet are really nice with carefully-painted toenails:
I don’t have many other dolls this size to compare to Snow White. My tallest doll is Annette Himstedt’s Annalisa. She is also fully jointed, and stands about 48 inches tall.
Himsetdt “Annalisa,” Masterpiece “Snow White.”
Annalisa makes an interesting comparison to Snow White for reasons other than her size. I feel like the larger Masterpiece dolls really started to become popular after Himstedts were discontinued. There just aren’t many dolls in this size range, and Masterpiece filled a void. I can’t speak for other collectors, but I was drawn to Himsedts for two reasons: because of their gorgeous construction and creative artistry, and because of how close they come to being life-sized. For those who can bear to remove their wonderful original outfits, these dolls can be redressed into real children’s clothing. There’s a mothering instinct and an emotional reaction that make this type of larger doll appealing to me.
Masterpiece didn’t fill the artistry void that Himstedt left behind, but they did choose to cater to the collectors who are looking for a life-sized doll that can be redressed and posed like a child.
The problem (at least with Snow White) is that she actually is life-sized…and heavy, which makes her much harder to handle than a standard Himstedt doll. Here’s Snow next to a more typical Himstedt, the club doll from 2005, Ntathi:
Himstedt “Ntathi, Masterpiece “Snow White.”
At 38 inches, Ntathi is still impressively large, but she’s small enough to be carried around. Her cloth waist also makes her easier to manage–it reduces her overall weight and allows her to bend and fold easily into a number of different carry-able positions. Ntathi can’t stand on her own, but she sits perfectly in a number of positions. Her exposed joints might not look pretty, but they are sturdy, move extremely well, and hold their positions:
One of my favorite dolls of all time.
Himstedts and Masterpiece dolls don’t have much in common beyond their size and their resemblance to real children. Towards the end of their run, Himstedts were priced in the $1,000 range, while Masterpiece dolls are only now creeping over $300. However, Himstedt dolls are works of art. They were made in Germany out of high-quality vinyl. They have custom glass eyes and hand-knotted human hair or mohair wigs. Their faces are hand painted with exceptional detail. They are dressed in unusual and highly detailed handmade outfits. They were produced in themed collections with imaginative stories. I miss them.
Anyway, to show you Snow’s impressive size next to some more typical dolls, here she is meeting one of my 23″ My Twinn girls :
And carrying an armful of play dolls in the 12″ scale:
For the original version including any supplementary images or video, visit “Snow White” by Monika Peter-Leicht for Masterpiece Dolls