Member Profile: Dawn Panttaja

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The following is an article from our Feb. 2014 newsletter:

The Story Behind “Lost Dolls” submitted by Dawn Panttaja
While showing my work last year, I recall one of the guests bringing her friend over to me and saying, “Tell her the story about the dolls…you know, your grandmother’s dolls.”

My Nana collected dolls. Actually, she collected anything and everything, but especially dolls. Together we would search thrift stores and yard sales, her back bedroom filled with our finds. None of them treasures, but all of them having some story to tell. I was her partner in the hunt and she always said that one day she would pass these dolls on to me. It happened that she died when I was fairly young and too shy to mention the dolls and what they meant to me.

Only years later did I find them at the family ranch, scattered in one of the abandoned farm buildings, most of them worse for the many years of neglect or from the teeth of the ranch dogs. I quietly collected the pieces, brought them home and have loved them for almost 30 years now. The ballerina is missing a foot at her lovely jointed ankle, the blond curls of the “mama doll” are still in corkscrews, her body sadly decaying.

Some dolls fall apart from too much love, some from too much neglect. Some are just lost…and then found. I love a doll that has been on a journey.

It’s these dolls that inspire my creations. The work is cone 6, all fired clay except for the elastic cording and antique shell buttons I use to put the ladies together. I use oxides and stains, as well as under glazes for color. Some work

has actually glaze on it. I often fire multiple times at increasingly lower temperatures to add color and effect.

My own journey through the years has formed my art. I didn’t go to art school, nor did I spend enough time in college to earn any sort of degree. I just did art. I’m lucky I can make my living doing the things that inspire me. Not all riches are monetary. I work as a musician, an actor,
theatre instructor, props mistress and costumer, a mother and wife, a member of the East Portland Eagles Lodge #3256, and an all-around bookworm with an obsession in “women artists” from the past. But my favorite hours are those when I find my way to my attic studio and spend some time with my “ladies,” my lost dolls.

To see more of Dawn Panttaga’s work visit

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