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The Tattoo Baby Doll Project

an interview with Jean-Chris Miller of Skin Art
Spring 2001

Sherri Wood is a Durham, North Carolina-based artist whose skilled
needlework has been exhibited all over the country-but not at the county
fairs and arts & crafts markets one might think. Instead, her work
exhibits in cutting edge galleries, because Wood's exquisite quilted,
sewn, and embroidered pieces are not only skillfully rendered but also
highly politicized. Using what used to be called the "feminine arts,"
Wood explores the contradictions present in defining female identity in
the 21st century. Transitioning from homemakers to breadwinners, sexual
subjugates to sexually empowered beings, women's roles have never been
in more of an upheaval. Wood's pieces speak volumes about these issues,
juxtaposing the medium of what many consider "quaint" handicrafts against
contemporary subject matter.

Her latest undertaking is called the Tattooed Baby Doll Project, wherein
Sherri embroidered full body suits designed by female tattooists onto

What inspired the Tattooed Baby Doll Project?

I was doing research on embroidery, reading Rosika Parker's "The
Subversive Stitch." It talked about the images that women stitched and
how the stitching and the images both defined and empowered women in a
variety of ways. I began to think about the images and the needlework
that women do today and I didn't see much going on with traditional
embroidery. I was, however, surrounded by people-and many women-with
incredible tattoos. San Francisco seems to be famous for this. So I
had these funny soft-bodied dolls I had been collecting from thrift
shops and the three things came together: dolls, embroidery and tattoos.

How did you select the tattooists and why did you choose all women?

I chose all women because the theme of a lot of my artwork has to do
with feminine identity. Once I started [searching for tattooists] the
whole community seemed to open up to me and it was sort of a snowball
effect. Each woman tattoo artist I spoke with about the project
suggested 5 more artists I should check out, they were very supportive
of each other and of me and the project. Most of the women I approached
were completely tuned into the basic theme of exploring female identity
through women's images and work. Some of the tattoo artists even
embroidered their own images as a hobby onto patches or clothing.
I think another future phase of this project might be to send girl dolls
to male tattoo artists and see the difference in the kind of images men
project on women in comparison to those we project on ourselves.

Can you explain the process in creating the tattooed baby dolls?

I find soft bodied baby dolls at thrift shops, so the dolls already have
a history. Some are even marked by their previous owners with stars or
writing or scribbles. I then send the doll directly to the tattoo
artist and she draws the image directly onto the body of the doll and
shades and colors it, usually with markers or colored pencils. It's
sent back to me and I hand embroider the dolls using a variety of
stitches to mimic the various visual texture of the drawings. Each doll
is then mounted on her own white fake fur and trim-lined stand. She's is
placed on a little round platform shelf with her own mirror so all can
see the full glory of her image.

Is the project complete?

It's just about complete. I started it in the summer of 1998 and I have
3 or 4 more dolls to embroider for a total of 15 or 16. The embroidery
takes a tremendous amount of time.

Finally, Sherri, are you tattooed?

I'm not tattooed but I continue to think about it and dream about it. I
recently dreamt that I got a tattoo of a hobo on the back of my thigh.
I've also had a dream of being fully tattooed and I've had a dream of
being in the chair and not being able to make up my mind.

Now I'm in a difficult situation because it would be hard for me to pick
just one or two artists after having worked with so many talented

The completed Tattooed Baby Doll Project will be exhibited June 6
through July 28th, 2001, at the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Folk
Art. A website catalog of the project should be up soon at Information on future exhibits of the dolls will
also be available at the website.


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