Kokeshi Clan ain’t nothin’ to fuck with
By Gary Spencer
The Western world (the U.S. in particular) has almost always had a fascination with Eastern culture (Asian culture in particular). Asian influence can often be found in numerous aspects of American life and culture, including visual arts, music, film, cartoons and toys. Dayton artist Craig Galentine has found a somewhat unique way of merging his personal affinity for both Eastern-influenced art, underground American art and figurines through his custom-made dolls that he creates and sells, known as the Kokeshi Clan.
While Kokeshi dolls themselves are hardly a new thing with their origins tracing back to early 20th century Japan, Galentine’s take on the wooden and handpainted figurines is distinctly American. Sure, many of his creations are distinctly Asian-flavored (some of his Kokeshi doll lines being ninjas, samurais and geishas), Galentine has breathed new life into the Kokeshi concept by making pop culture-inspired Kokeshi dolls such as his Star Trek and Star Wars collectibles. And not just that, but Galentine’s Kokeshi dolls are made from two pieces of wood instead of the typical Japanese tradition of a single piece of wood. Why? So that an owner can turn the doll’s head, reflecting the influence of the action figures of his childhood. But make no mistake — Galentine’s Kokeshi Clan dolls are intended to be appreciated as pieces of art and not made to withstand the abuse endured by being played with by your kids.
I recently spoke with Galentine about his intriguing artistic and business ventures with the Kokeshi Clan. Here’s what he had to say:
What inspired you to begin the Kokeshi Clan?
I am a fan of toys, video games, music, ninjas, sci-fi, action figures and collectible things. I also have an affinity for Eastern art. It is only natural that my work would take this direction. I remember seeing traditional Kokeshi dolls in pictures and was struck by their beauty and simplicity of design. As the designer toy movement became bigger, I began to gravitate towards it as an admirer and collector. I wanted to find a way to be a part of that movement without involving all of the production and middlemen. I wanted to find a way that I could do it myself. Once I found wood that would be suitable for my intentions I set to work and never looked back. [Craig Galentine]
How do you create the Kokeshi Clan dolls?
I searched around and eventually I found a type of wood that with a bit of adaptation, I could work with. I use two pieces of Birch wood and connect them with a dowel so that their heads can turn. What I achieved was a doll with a unique shape that retained traditional elements as well. I sketch directly onto the wood itself with a pencil first. Once I have my design, I use only acrylic paint and brushes. Over time I have developed little tools and techniques that help me achieve my desired results. These are of course, top secret. [CG]
Are all your dolls based on fictional characters, and/or are they inspired by real life people/things?
In the beginning they were all fictional characters that I came up with, mostly Ninjas, Samurai and Geisha girls. Eventually I started making characters from some of my favorite movies and television shows such as Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, etc. These became wildly popular pretty quickly. [CG]
Who is Kokeshi Clan’s target audience in terms of sales or appeal?
The Kokeshi Clan seems to have a universal appeal. I ship my dolls all over the world. My customers are everyone from art collectors and designer toy enthusiasts to the average shopper looking for a unique gift. My dolls have been used as gifts for actors of the TV show Chuck at a charity event in Hollywood and have even found themselves in the legendary Star Wars memorabilia collection of Steve Sansweet at Rancho Obi Wan in California. [CG]
I read that you can create custom-made Kokeshi Clan dolls. How does that work?
I do take custom orders; it has become a huge part of my business. You can contact me via email with the details of your request. I will let you know if it will be possible and if so, a price and timeframe. Once the word got out, I had a steady stream of custom order requests for almost anything you can imagine. Customers began requesting to have Kokeshi doll versions of themselves and their families created as gifts and for special occasions. Many customers have dolls of themselves made to use as wedding cake toppers. It has become a large part of my business in the spring and summer. [CG]
How many Kokeshi Clan dolls have you created overall?
I estimate that I have made between 2,000 and 3,000 dolls so far. [CG]
What’s the feedback been like for Kokeshi Clan?
Absolutely fantastic. I owe a lot to the blogging community for the endless amount of publicity and support that they have shown. My business would not be the same if it were not for their generosity. Being able to work every day doing something I love has been a dream come true. [CG]
Is there anywhere in Dayton where someone could purchase Kokeshi Clan dolls?
At the moment my Kokeshi dolls are only available online via my Etsy shop, Temple7e (www.etsy.com/shop/temple7e). However they are available in select stores throughout Scandinavia. [CG]
What’s it like to be an artist in Dayton?
I would like to thank everyone for the incredible amount of support that I have been given. Dayton is such an interesting place in that there is so much amazing, unique artistic talent in this one small city. I urge everyone to get out and support these local artists and galleries that are trying to make it happen. [CG]
The Kokeshi Clan will be part of an upcoming art exhibition paying tribute to the films of George Lucas entitled “Thank the Maker” that will be held at 4Frnt Studios, 1001 E. Second St. in downtown Dayton on October 29, from 8 p.m. to midnight. For more information please visit 4frntstudio.blogspot.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.