Geneva Anderson digs into art

Hello Dolly! Sally Heath’s Collection of Nested Christmas Dolls at SRJC’s Mahoney Library through Friday, December 17th, 2010

Sally Heath's collection of Matryoshka Christmas dolls is on display at SRJC's Petaluma Campus Mahoney Gallery through December 17th.. Photo: Geneva Anderson

When Sally Heath saw her first set of Matroyshkya dolls in a Santa Rosa gift shop in the early 1990’s, a hobby was born.  Heath, a retired SRJC Physics instructor, and long-time Santa Rosa resident, now has 121 sets of these charming wooden nested dolls and 117 of these are on display in the Connie Mahoney Reading Room at the Mahoney Library on SRJC’s Petaluma campus.

A Matryoshka is a Russian nesting doll. Matryoshkas are often used as symbols of Russian culture, but nesting dolls actually have their origins in Japan, The first Russian matryoshka was made in 1890 in a folk crafts workshop near Moscow.  A Russian folk painter encountered a set of seven Japanese nesting figures representing the Seven Gods of Fortune and he and a wood turner made a set of eight alternating boy and girl dolls.  It is thought the word “matryoshka” originates from the Latin root “mater” meaning “mother.” 

 Matryoshka are most often made of wood from trees of the genus tilia. Species of genus tilia are commonly known as linden wood or lime wood (not the citrus lime tree) and as basswood in the United States. The small solid figure in the center of the nest of dolls is first turned on a lathe. The bottom half of the next larger doll is turned so the center doll rests inside it and then the top half of that doll is turned to fit on the bottom half. This bottom and top turning process is continued until all the layers are completed.

Sally Heath's collection of Matryoshka Christmas dolls is on display at SRJC's Petaluma Campus Mahoney Gallery through December 17th.. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Matryoshka are considered folk-art, kitsch and camp and come in at all price and quality points.  When Sally Heath first started collecting in the early 1990’s, the only dolls that she could find locally were from China and were sold under a label called “Authentic Models” and came in a box with a plastic cover.   She encountered her first Russian-made matroyshkya couple of years later in a Christmas Shop in Santa Fe and immediately recognized their superior workmanship and fine painting detail.  From that point on, she has collected mainly Russian-made matryoshka.

 The display in the Connie Mahoney Reading Room occupies 6 cabinets.  The first and second (left most) cabinets contain Russian-made matryoshka, including Heath’s largest set which contains 15 hand-painted dolls.  The largest doll in this set is about 10 inches tall while the smallest is about the size of a peanut and skillfully painted. 

The heads of many matryoshka are greatly enlarged and the face dominates the body, a distortion which gives them a primitive but very expressive and endearing look.  “The attention to detail can be impressive” said Karen Petersen who runs the Mahoney Gallery.  “In some, the clothing is  finely embellished with glitter and flourishes.  And some of the dolls here serve as portraits of churches and important landmarks.”   

Nesting dolls come in a variety of shapes and are turned on a lathe. These round dolls are part of Sally Heath's extensive collection of nested wooden Christmas dolls on display in the Connie Mahoney Reading Room in the Mahoney Library on SRJC's Petaluma Campus through December 17th. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Many of the “Santa” figures in the display are not Santa Claus but rather “Ded Moroz” or Grandfather Frost, who serves as the Russian equivalent of our Santa Claus. Grandfather Frost leaves presents for children on the New Year Tree. Unlike Santa Claus, he doesn’t travel down chimneys and does not drive a sleigh pulled by reindeer. He enters houses through front doors and either drives a troika or walks with a long magical staff.

Ded Moroz is commonly accompanied by Snegurochka, or Snow Maiden, his granddaughter, who helps him deliver his toys and treats. Snegurochka’s name is derived from the Russian word for snow, sneg. She is most commonly depicted with blond hair and wearing a long silver-blue robe and a furry cap. 

A Hawaiian variant of Ded Moroz (Russian Grandfather Frost) plays the ukelele and has sunglasses. Part of Sally Heath's collection of nested wooden dolls on display in the Connie Mahoney Reading Room in the Mahoney Library on SRJC's Petaluma Campus through December 17th. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The upper shelves of the third cabinet and forth cabinets contain Russian-made Ded Moroz and Snegurochka.  Below these are some uncommonly shaped sets of dolls, including some round, oval and sharply pointed sets.  A number of these open at the bottom rather than in the middle.  

The last two smaller cabinets contain nested dolls from different countries, including a set of three Limoges porcelain Santa dolls which don’t really nest and each has a hinged opening at Santa’s belt. Heath says this set has doubled in price since she bought it. 

When Heath discovered the nested dolls for sale on the Internet, she went into high gear and began buying sets on Ebay.  “You can spend hundreds of dollars on these. I sort of have a limit. I try not to spend over $10 per doll.  The

A Russian Snegurochka or “Snow Maiden” nested doll most commonly depicted with blond hair and wearing a long silver-blue robe and a furry cap. Photo: Geneva Anderson

math is like this.  If I have a set of 7, the limit is $70.00 or less for the set.   The last set I went over though.  They’ve got brown fur that is hand-painted on against white and there’s some blue and the heads have lovely gems set in.  I paid the most per doll I’ve ever paid for this set. ”

Heath brings her matryoshkas out every holiday season and delights in arranging and displaying them throughout her home.   When they’re not on display, she stores them in special protective containers that she’s constructed from milk cartons and several sets can be kept safely in one big box.  She always keeps a few out in her kitchen though. “There’s just something about them that makes me smile.”


The Connie Mahoney Reading Room is located inside the Mahoney Library on Santa Rosa Junior College’s Petaluma Campus, 680 Sonoma Mountain Parkway, Petaluma, CA,  94954.    Parking on campus is $4.00 and is by permit only and the machine requires exact change. 

 Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 1 PM Friday.   Phone (707) 778-3974.    The library will close for the holiday/semester break on Friday, December 17th, at 1 p.m.

A double set of Ded Moroz and Snegurochka nested Russian wooden dolls. From Sally Heath's collection of Matryoshka Christmas dolls on display in the Connie Mahoney Reading Room in the Mahoney Library on SRJC's Petaluma Campus through December 17th. Photo: Geneva Anderson

December 13, 2010 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

As Peanuts turns 60, the Mahoney Library Gallery explores “Peanuts in Petaluma”…through October 30, 2010

You don’t have to twist any arms to get long-time Petalumans to talk about wristrestling. For those of us who grew up in Petaluma in the 1960’s, wristwrestling and Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts comics, which appeared in both the Argus Courier and Press Democrat newspapers, were an integral part of our lives. “Peanuts Comes to Petaluma,” at the Mahoney Library Gallery through October 30, gives us a chance to look back on those days through the genius of Schulz as a storyteller and one of the great artists of our time. 

Between April and May 1968, Schultz created 11 Peanuts comic strips, all related to Snoopy coming to Petaluma to win the Petaluma World Wristwrestling Championship.   The Charles M. Schulz Museum, of Santa Rosa, has generously lent the Mahoney Library Gallery full size high-resolution scans of all Schulz’s original 4 panel gag strip drawings related to wristwrestling in Petaluma.  These are scans of ink drawings with each panel measuring about 4 x 4 inches.   The series tracks Snoopy’s pilgrimage to Petaluma to compete and his exploits with iconic Peanuts characters Charlie Brown, Linus, and Lucy.  

Snoopy was so memorable, loveable, because we all could read his mind as his very human thoughts unfolded.   Schulz knew that most dog lovers and owners felt that they alone had special insights into their dogs’ thoughts and in creating Snoopy he gave us a dog who we could rely on to be himself, even when he was doing something crazy.  In imagining himself capable of entering and winning the world’s wristwrestling championship, Snoopy channeled the inner sportsman in all of us– and the traveler and the dreamer.  Never mind that almost everything Snoopy tried, ended him up back in his doghouse laid out flat, tired, but he was never ever defeated.  Unfortunately, Snoopy did not thoroughly read the instructions before embarking on his journey to Petaluma.  In the final strip, he was eliminated because the official armwrestling rules stated you must lock your thumbs with the opposing competitor.  Snoopy had no thumb.

The "Wristwrestling Memorial Sculpture," 1988, by artist Rosa Estabanez features World Wristwrestling founders Bill Soberanes and Dave Devoto locked arm in arm.

Peanuts ran in over 2,600 newspapers, with a readership of 355 million in 75 countries, and was translated into 21 languages. Reprints of the strip are still syndicated and run in many newspapers.

 The exhibition also includes a rich archive of historical materials—books, newspaper clippings and photographs–that Mahoney librarian and gallery curator, Karen Petersen, has collected   about Charles Schulz and wristwrestling in Petaluma.  There is also information about sculptor Rosa Estabanez, who created the Wristwrestling Memorial Sculpture in 1988, which quickly became a downtown Petaluma landmark (intersection of Petaluma Blvd. North and East Washington Street).  The sculpture commemorates the late Argus Courier columnist Bill Soberanes, co-founder of the Petaluma World Wristwrestling Championship, along with Dave Devoto who is depicted wristwrestling Soberanes in the sculpture. The Mahoney Library Gallery exhibition coincides with the sculpture’s restoration undertaken by the city of Petaluma.

The “Peanuts” exhibit is funded by a grant from the Santa Rosa Junior College Foundation, the Randolph Newman Cultural Enrichment Endowment, and is being displayed courtesy of the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California.


Snoopy turns 60 and there’s a nationwide celebration

The exhibition also coincides with the 60th anniversary of Peanuts comic strip and there are a number of events happening nationwide to celebrate Schulz’s achievement.

Portraits of Schulz” October 1 – February 6, 2011, Charles M Schulz Museum, Santa Rosa, CA.  An exhibition celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Peanuts though portraits of Schulz.  See rare self-portraits by Schulz, as well as how fellow artists captured and admired him through their own art in a mixture of mediums from oil paintings to sculptures. This exhibition will run concurrently with the debut of Schulz’s photographic portrait in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

A photograph Charles Schulz will be presented to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in a ceremony for invited guests on October 1, 2010. The 1986 photograph, created by acclaimed portraitist Yousuf Karsh, is the Portrait Gallery’s first image of Schulz.

Charles Schulz, by Yousuf Karsh. Chromogenic print, 1986. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Estrellita Karsh in memory of Yousuf Karsh ©1986 Estate of Yousuf Karsh.

On October 2, the National Portrait Gallery will host a family-and-friends day with events for all ages: cartooning workshops; a screening of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; and guest appearances from Snoopy and Peanuts animation producer Lee Mendelson.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will also mark the 60th anniversary with a case that will feature objects from Schulz.

Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz  Author Beverly Gherman’s all-ages biography on the Schulz, an insightful look into the life and career Charles Schulz. Gherman will be at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco from 1:00-3:00pm on Saturday, October 9, 2010 signing books and leading a discussion about Schulz.

 “Peanuts Comes to Petaluma,” through October 30, 2010, Mahoney Library Gallery, Mahoney Library, Petaluma Campus SRJC, 680 Sonoma Mountain Parkway, Petaluma, CA  94952.

Gallery Hours:   Monday-Thursday: 8 a.m. – 9 p.m., Friday: 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Saturday: 10 a.m – 3 p.m.

Parking: $4.00 parking permits required in campus lots.  Automated machines take cash and coins.

October 6, 2010 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment