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Interview: Smadar Gerlich | Papier-mâché Dolls

Smadar Gerlich at work in her studio

There’s nothing better than art that puts a smile on your face. And Israeli artist, Smadar Gerlich’s dolls do just that. Whimsical voluptuous women in colourful clothes are her signature style but she also makes couples, friends sitting on benches, Caribbean singers, animals, miniature houses  … And they’re all made from papier-mâché and recycled materials.

Discovering a love of papier-mâché ten years ago, Smadar has perfected the technique and her style. ‘Between us,’ she says, ‘my big love is shaping figures of curvy, graceful women with small tummies and hips, much like real women look like!’

Here, Smadar opens up about her work and its importance in her world …

Smadar Gerlich African singer dolls

Join in the singing: African singer dolls

Smadar Gerlich African singer doll

Please introduce yourself …

If someone asks me what I do for a living, I would say I’m playing with dolls.  My name is Smadar Gerlich and I am a papier-mâché artist. I’m happily married with three grown children and I live and work in Caeasarea, a beautiful place near the sea in Israel.

My experience includes  teaching arts in school, learning graphic design, creating and selling Judaica objects. Today I can say that everything I did in my life has brought me to this point where I’m doing what I love.

Smadar Gerlich in studio

The queen of papier-mache, Smadar Gerlich and her dolls.

Tell us about your creative process – how you work, where you work, where you get your ideas from.

From the moment I was introduced to papier-mâché I felt it was the right material for me and I never went back. It took me some time to become familiar with it but I learned  through experience how to bring out the best of it.

After overcoming technical difficulties and finding my perfect recipe, the first thing I wanted to make was dolls and I knew exactly how I wanted them to look. My very first set of dolls were perfectly formed in my mind before I even started to work on them. All that was left for me to do was give them life. The first four dolls I brought to the shop were sold immediately. When I look at the pictures of them now I can’t believe that someone actually bought them.

Smadar Gerlich doll

Since then I have made hundreds of dolls but they’ve changed a lot over the years. I expanded my range and now I have a variety of dolls in which the smallest one is 16 cm tall and the largest one reaches 1.20 m.

When I first started as a doll maker, I simply did what I loved. Fortunately it worked for a few years and people loved what I designed and bought almost everything.

At some point I felt it was time to move on and make something new, so I started looking for new ideas. Some of the new dolls were welcomed and some of them remained on the shelf. I felt like I had lost my magic touch and my self-esteem was rocking up and down. I needed reassurance from my audience. If someone is willing to spend their money on one of my dolls so they can enjoy it at their home, that is the biggest complement for me!

Smadar Gerlich bride and groom dolls

The happy couple: Smadar’s bride and groom dolls.

Other dolls I made later took about two years to perfect until I reached a satisfying result which I felt good about. All my dolls have been modified through the years as I was getting more professional in my work. One thing I noticed in retrospect is that I love their imperfect appearance. They might be chubby but they are beautifully dressed and well-groomed and they all look pleased with themselves.

Over the years I have presented my dolls in several exhibitions in Israel. My dolls are sold in Tel-Aviv and in boutique shops that specialise in original Israeli art. My art is now available worldwide in my Etsy shop called “SmadarPaperMasheArt.

Smadar Gerlich's studio

Smadar Gerlich’s studio

My studio is located in the big basement of our house. A few years back I used to work in a small room that I used as my studio, but I’ve been collecting a lot of materials and the space was too small. In my current vast studio I have a place for everything. I often can’t find them but I’m sure I have them somewhere …

I collect all kinds of papers, fabric, beads, cardboards used aluminum foil from my kitchen, all kinds of paints and many kinds of new materials which I buy in hardware stores. I love these shops and often experiment with new materials looking for fresh ideas for my dolls.

Smadar Gerlich's dolls in a row

Sitting pretty

Upcycling and sustainability is clearly important to you. Tell us how you follow these principles in your work and home life?

Recycling is a big deal for me and I love the fact that I use most of my own materials rather than buying them. The materials are available immediately whenever I need them. In my home routine I recycle as much as possible including leftovers from the kitchen. Twice a year we sprinkle our compost in the garden and later look for the little seedlings of vegetables that suddenly pop up.

In my work I’m delighted by the fact that I create something out of nothing. Waste paper thrown out of the  office at the end of the day is a treasure for me and I process this paper in my own way which changes from time to time. I’m very proud that my sculptures are made from garbage and they actually get a new form and life.

Smadar Gerlich dolls

How easy/difficult was it going out on your own? What challenges did you face?

For an artist, running a business is usually a foreign concept. I’m almost 57 years old and I’m still trying to do it correctly. The idea that I have to convince people to buy my products was a little tough for me and it does not come naturally to me. There were a few occasions where I did not get paid for my work, or had to deal  with someone who copied my product, but during the years I’ve learned how to deal with the business and how to focus on what I want to achieve. It’s not always easy and I continue to learn every day.

Working from home was my first ambition because I wanted to be there when my children were young. However, it was important for me to work at a job that makes a profit. Doing all that along with artistic creation has filled me with a sense of gratitude. It was a dream come true.

Smadar Gerlich papier-mache houses

Miniature papier-mache houses

What an inspirational story! Thanks so much, Smadar.

You can find more of her dolls on Etsy.

Visit the Who'd Have Thought store

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