Morton Bartlett
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  • Morton Bartlett (1909–1993)
  • Boston
  • 1950–1965
  • Paint on cast plaster with synthetic hair and fabric
  • 28 1/4 x 9 x 5 3/4 in.
  • American Folk art Museum, Blanchard-Hill Collection, gift of M. Anne Hill and Edward V. Blanchard Jr., 1998.10.6
  • Morton Bartlett attended Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard University but dropped out of college without taking a degree. It is possible that he had to leave college because of the Depression or the deaths of his parents. He worked at a variety of jobs, including freelance photography, before establishing himself as a printing designer. A reserved bachelor with few close friendships, Bartlett created a private world inhabited by thirteen meticulously sculpted and costumed plaster boys and girls that he photographed in vignettes. Although he allowed a friend to publish a brief article on his "sweethearts" in Yankee magazine in 1965, the dolls and the photographs remained unknown to the artworld until their discovery after the artist's death in 1993. Bartlett had carefully stored the dolls, spare body parts, extra clothes, his photographs, and an archive of drawings in the only locked cabinet in his house.

    Bartlett tried to create both physical and psychological verisimilitude in his dolls. He consulted anatomy texts and sewed, knitted, and embroidered the dolls' clothes himself. Doll in Blue Pleated Skirt captures the budding sexuality of a prepubescent girl. The doll brushes her luxuriant hair off her face, provocatively revealing her developing breasts beneath her knit blouse. Physical details—the musculature of the arm, weight balanced on one leg, pink toenails, the darker shade of the skin over the knee—are uncannily exact. Only the doll's haunting expression is ambiguous. Her eyes betray a profound inwardness, perhaps a secret sadness.
  • Photo by Gavin Ashworth