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Member Spotlight: Wilma Simmons of Epress Wu Designs

Welcome to Art Dolls Only's Member SPOTLIGHT! ADO shares an article focusing on it's members on the 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th and 30th of each month! (February's 30th installment will share on the 28th)

Today's spotlight is Wilma Simmons of Empress Wu Designs.  Wilma is located in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

What kind of Art Dolls do you create? Most of my recent dolls have been mixed media dolls – generally with polymer clay heads and soft sculptured bodies. These have evolved from earlier all cloth dolls.

How long have you been a doll maker? How has your practice change over time? I started making simple dolls in the 70’s when dolls were toys for my children – simple “pancake” style cloth dolls and then I used to embroider the facial features. As a stay at home mum, I tried all sorts of community craft activities like pottery, knitting, macrame, spinning, embroidery..... I even completed a Creative Embroidery and Design Course with the Embroiderers Guild by correspondence – in those days only snail mail! A lot of these pursuits were for the social contact in isolated rural settings rather than for the activity itself! However, my obsessions for awhile were embroidery and beading which I did mainly to relieve stress from my everyday work as a high school principal. I started seriously making art dolls when I joined “Hello Dollies” a dollmakers’ group in Newcastle in 2001. Since giving up full time work in 2005, I completed a Contemporary Clay Instructors’ Course and now I enjoy spending my days polymer claying, felting, beading, embellishing textiles and doll making . The 2012 series of dolls – message stick dolls – are certainly very different from the cute little cloth play dolls I first made.

Do you have a favorite doll that you have made? I am often asked what is my favorite work and I always say “ What I’m working on at the moment...” because I find it hard to choose a doll which stands out from the many . However, I have a special feeling for my White Knight – a mixed media soft sculpture with clay sculpted elements and bead embroidery. The “Three Wise Women” have also become a bit of a “signature”. They won my first “prize” in a national competition, and now belong to a doll collector friend.

What are your favorite materials to create with? The photos show how much I like fabric, beads, and clay, but I also love working with felt and really love making felt bodies for art dolls.

Where does your inspiration come from? What research do you do before you create I am often inspired by other artists’ work in different media, my Chinese heritage, places and people. My work often has a literary link too. I am inspired by stories and poetry and my next series of dolls will be based on poems about tea drinking! I read a lot, write a lot, collect images, work up some color palettes and sketch ideas. Sometimes, I do the research and have an idea in my head for a long time before anything happens. This is an example - I have wanted to make a woman on a tiger doll to illustrate the limerick I loved as a child, “ There once was a lady from Niger, Who smiled as she rode on a tiger, They returned from the ride, With the lady inside , And the smile on the face of the tiger. “ I did some sketches in 2011 and now in October 2012, it is a work in progress!

What does your work area look like? One bedroom in our home has become my work space – usually looks rather messy but I often work on projects with all of the supplies and extras out within reach and then have a day or two of returning things back to their places and it looks tidy and organised until I start again. According to my husband, I don’t have a work space – it is all through the house and the garage!

What memorable responses have you had to your work? The most wonderful response to my work was the exhibition I had at a gallery, Timeless Textiles exhibition, “Wise Women” opened on International Women’s Day 2012. There were lots of people at the opening, and I am proud to say that I think I did my bit putting “art dolls” up there as “real art”. All my work sold – art dolls and mixed media canvases and it resulted in some doll workshops also held at the gallery. It was all a bit overwhelming.
What advice would you give new doll artists? Be positive about your own work – love it, enjoy it, celebrate it!

Where can our fans find you on line? 
Blog/website :
Etsy Shop:
Flickr :
Artist statement :


  1. thank you - I feel very honoured and humbled to be spotlighted by Art Dolls Only.

  2. Hi

    Wilma My facebook has been hacked don't know when I will be back on line, emails only sorry I cannot read your posts Rosalynd