North Carolina artist Mary Paulsen says God has spoken to her twice. The first time, in 1996, he told her to build a village of houses for her collection of 6,000 dolls. The second time, in 1998, he told her to take up a brush and paint, using windows as her canvas. Both of these projects have come together in her yard outside of Holden Beach, NC, where visitors can explore her folk art gallery and doll baby museum.
The village consists of large-scale dollhouses - most are around the size of a child’s playhouse - each of which house many dolls. Some of the houses represent a specific scene - a church, a schoolhouse - and all combine other aspects of her art, including written messages and painted details. Some houses rest on the ground, while others are raised, accessible only by stairs and elevated walkways.
Slightly apart from the village is the doll museum, where visitors can buy dolls and other leftover toys and scrap which haven’t yet been incorporated into the village, and a few small outbuildings (including one made entirely from glass bottles) filled with Mary’s brightly painted windows. Her paintings depict mermaids, fish, flowers, cartoon characters (Tweety Bird and the other Looney Tunes are favorites), wedding scenes, and religious images, among other things, and often have the title or caption painted directly on the glass.
Taken in all at once, the village and its surroundings are overwhelming, and even a bit unsettling. Every surface has been embellished or used to hold some other object - worn toys, old books, broken tools - and Mary has painted Bible verses, cryptic quotes, and bits of her own advice on many of the walls. Plastic puppies sit inside an old microwave. Dolls peer out of locked doors. Some of the staircases and walkways lead to dead ends.
However, Mary sees her village as a cheerful place, and her joy she takes in her painting, her dolls, and her faith are evident. The rooms where she keeps her paintings are light-filled and colorful, and Mary herself is often around, taking breaks from her work to greet visitors and show them around.
Visitors are welcome even when Mary is not on-site, though she usually is there working on her next painting or project. Her paintings and some of her other art are for sale, and she donates a portion of the profits to Feed the Children. She also accepts extra donations for both the fund and herself - money for the children, and bottles, windows, buttons and other scraps for her own use.
Obscura Day location: April 9, 2011.