By Rebecca Drew
THIS VINTAGE loving couple created an Instagram account dedicated to their LIFE-SIZE PLASTIC DOLL CHILDREN after their friends were posting pictures of their real families on Facebook to address those constantly asking when they were going to start a family of their own.
Childhood sweethearts, applications scientist, Madeline Dressel (34) and her communications technician husband, Malachi (35) from Cross Hill, South Carolina, USA, grew up together and have been married for four years.
The pair have a passion for all things vintage and spend their spare time scouring charity shops, garage sales and flea markets to add to their collection of dolls, vintage kitchenware, mid-century furniture, toys, tools and décor which they then spend time upcycling and make use of these items in their home. The pair have many vintage appliances which include radios, toaster, vacuum cleaner, gas stove and fridge in their home that are over 60-years old and still in peak condition.
Madeline has collected dolls ever since she was a child and has a passion for vintage Barbies of which she has a collection of 75 but has collected toddler sized dolls from the 1950s and 60s since 2016. Madeline and Malachi can spend anywhere between a few hours to a few days restoring the dolls they find through hunting thrift shops and markets.
Madeline and Malachi set up their Instagram, all.my.plastic.children last year as a parody account documenting their plastic family life after they noticed their Facebook feeds were saturated with their friends posting pictures with their real children. Since then, they have been staging their ‘family’ portraits and have celebrated Christmas and birthdays all with a retro twist.
“I have always loved and collected dolls from a young age. I still have most of my childhood dolls. I started collecting vintage Barbies at eleven or twelve and my interest has continued to expand and grow from there,” said Madeline.
“As a kid, I loved reading Doll Reader Magazine and doll-collecting reference books. As an adult, I’m really fulfilling my childhood desires for dolls that I saw and wanted from those articles.
“Although I was certainly familiar with the life-size toddler dolls of the late 1950s and early 1960s such as Ideal’s Playpal line, it wasn’t until 2016 when we came across an American Character Chuckles doll and a Horsman Princess Peggy doll at a thrift store that my interest in these larger plastic dolls was rekindled.
“We both thought that it would be cool to pose them in real-life settings as if they were kids as a bit of a joke to start, but it grew from there. We enjoy collecting dolls together and the big ones are our favourites.
“We kept seeing a lot of professionally done outdoor family photographs popping up on our Facebook feeds from various friends and family and we thought that staging a family photo of our own in a similar style would both be a silly way to get in on the act and also address the age old question about when we were going to have kids.
“Obviously, the Instagram name ‘all my plastic children’ is a play on the campy soap opera, All My Children. Initially we conceived of mostly parodies of staged family photos, but it has developed into more of its own artform allowing us to showcase our vintage collections and recreate mid-century inspired photographs and advertisements.”
Of their 30 life-size dolls that all currently in varying states of repair, Madeline and Malachi have seven dolls that have specific names, with the first five named after types of plastics: Syroco, after a plastic décor company from the sixties; Polly-Marie, after polymer; Baker, after mid-century plastic, Bakelite; Sara-Ann, after Saran; Stella-Irene, after styrene and finally, Sandy and Thomas.
The couple can spend days restoring the dolls that they find to preserve them for the future and have spent between £1,500 to £2,000 on them in total.
“The quality and artistry of many of these dolls, particularly those by the Ideal doll company, is unmatched and we view them as works of art to be preserved,” said Madeline.
“Since most of these dolls are fifty to sixty years old they typically all need a thorough cleaning and to have their hair washed and reset. This can take a few hours or a couple of days. Most of these dolls were typically strung with elastic which degrades over time. To re-string the dolls, the original elastic must be cut and removed which completely disassembles the doll.
“It takes about thirty minutes to completely re-string a doll but it is a labour intensive job and much easier with two people since one person needs to hold tension on the elastic while the other reattaches the head and limbs.
“Once re-strung with new elastic the dolls can stand on their own and hold a pose. For more severe damage, such as broken plastic limbs we either need to source a replacement limb or for small cracks and breaks the break can be reinforced using special materials such as epoxy based artist clays. These repairs can take multiple days to complete.”
Madeline and Malachi’s friends and family love their hobby and even look forward to receiving their absurd take on a ‘family’ Christmas card which features their plastic children each year.
Strangers haven’t been so kind telling Madeline she hasn’t fulfilled her desire to have children and that their hobby is creepy.
The couple are happy as they are and don’t currently have plans to have children but haven’t ruled it out for the future.
“People who either know us, or actually take the time to talk to us and ask questions usually come away with a positive view – they get the joke as well as appreciate the time and thought that we put into staging the photographs,” said Madeline.
“However, when taken out of context, which is easy when something gets shared on the internet, we tend to get inundated with comments from people saying that our pictures are creepy, give them nightmares, or that I must have some un-met desire to have kids, interestingly we’ve never seen a comment from someone implying the same about Malachi.
“The answer to that last question – is no, neither one of us view the dolls as a surrogate for children we simply enjoy them for what they are.”
Madeline and Malachi want to make sure their collections are used in everyday life and don’t want them to be forgotten on a shelf, Madeline shared her final words to anyone who might criticise it.
“Don’t take things so seriously. This is meant to be a fun and humorous way that we showcase our many collections – if it bothers you, scroll on past,” she said.
“We both understand that for some people, dolls, particularly large dolls, are seriously creepy and perhaps frightening. However, we seem to get many negative comments from people that are unable to simply appreciate the fun of absurdity for its own sake.
“Sometimes we make memes with our photographs of things we’d like to say to people.
“Dolls aren’t just for kids and collections shouldn’t just sit on a shelf for display. Have fun with them! We know this is silly, absurd, and yes a little creepy – that’s what makes it entertaining.”
For more information see www.instagram.com/all.my.plastic.children