Doll fans and art lovers all convened in the elegant galleries of the National Arts Club to fete artists Mel Odom and Joshua McKinney and their bodies of work as fashion doll creators and experts.

 

The gallery was beautifully appointed with dolls on pedestals, lit as the works of art that they are. After viewing the gallery and meeting the artists, guests gathered in an upstairs drawing room for the presentation of fashion dolls, followed by a Q&A from Mel and Josh.

 

Having seen any number of presentations on dolls (and given quite a few myself) I was pleasantly surprised to learn some new tidbits about doll history, but I particularly enjoyed the flow of conversation between the two artists and their easy way with each other. These are two men on the same wavelength. While Odom and McKinney have very different styles and inspirations, their mutual love of art, illustration, and beauty is a clear link between the two.

 

Mel Odom grew up loving dolls, and had his own as a child. Inheriting his first dolls from older cousins, Mel was able to explore his creativity and sense of self through his burgeoning collection. Josh, despite being the younger of the two, actually didn’t have dolls as a child. He felt his mother was not quite comfortable with his playing with traditional girl toys. Both men grew up in rural environments; Mel in North Carolina, Josh in Pennsylvania. Being outside of a bohemian city culture meant playing with dolls was looked down upon for boys.

 

 

 

 

For many collectors, not being allowed to play became the impetus to collect as adults. But in the case of both Josh and Mel, their lifelong love of dolls inspired their art. During a painful time in Mel’s life when a good friend was dying of AIDS, Mel began creating Gene, a perfect movie star in a fantasy world where everything was lovely and elegant. Mel’s love of dolls manifested in his own art and his own 3d creation.

 

For Josh, his illustrations came to inspire him to manifest a character called Pidgin. As he continued to draw this character, she became more real and basically demanded to exist off the page. Starting with porcelain and the simplest of wigs and clothes, Pidgin developed her own unique personality and became an icon online. McKinney’s Pidgin has over 75,000 followers on Instagram and many of them like to paint their faces in a hybrid cosplay homage to the doll. Fan Art Fridays yield an extraordinary array of young women with freckles and hearts on their face like Pidgin, and their followers in turn jump onto the Pidgin wagon and become loyal fans.

 

As Pidgin grows and develops going into her sixth year, Mel has retired Gene Marshall and has concentrated on his art and his legacy. As he told WWD recently, Open to writing a new book, Odom said a doll is not on the horizon. “I’ve decided that Gene has retired to Italy right now. Who would not want to do that? I want to give it a rest for a while because it is very much a business. Fashion dolls are all detail. Every bit of them is a detail because they’re small — the right fabric, the right trim — all of that. In fact, I am relieved to not be doing that anymore,” Odom said.

 

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