The Lost Doll

The Lost Doll

By Sandy Brown Jensen

When I was a little girl, I was doll crazy. I dressed my dolls obsessively, and I was lucky enough to have an Aunt Mel who loved to make doll clothes for my girls.

I sat them around the picnic table and taught them; and I became a teacher.

I invited them to tea parties and cooked for them in my doll kitchen; and I became an avid home cook and dinner party hostess.

I read to them and became a reader.

I drew with them and became an artist.

What I am now, I learned by acting on The Doll Stage.

The Way of the Doll quote is from Rainer Maria Rilke, the great German poet who thought quite a bit about dolls. The art is made using the Bazaart app for iPad.

“Am I not right to feel as if I

must stay seated, as if I must wait

before The Doll Stage, or, rather,

gaze at it so intensely that at

last an Angel

has to come and make the stuffed skins startle into life?

Angel and Doll: A real play, finally.”

–Rainer Maria Rilke

My most beloved doll was a Betsy McCall doll. I took her on our family vacation to Glacier National Park. One morning, I got her all dressed for the day’s adventure over the Going to the Sun Highway and arranged her in a little tableau under a huge old oak tree.

Lost Betsy. I made this image just this week. At age 65, there is some inner compulsion to return again and again to the scene of the crime; the crime of abandoning a loved one to the wilderness. I began with two of my photographs, collaged it in the Bazaart for iPad app, then used the “Purts” setting in the Virtual Painter app for the painterly quality.

In the kerfluffle of departure, I forgot her until we were high on the pass, and then the parents said it was too late to go back for her. I was heartbroken. My mother, now age 89, has so many times told me one of the few regrets of her well-lived life was that they didn’t go back for Betsy.

In my memory, Betsy is still there, waiting for me. I have returned to Montana three times over the span of the ensuing five decades, and each time I have gone to that tree to look for her. At age 65, there is some inner compulsion to return again and again to the scene of the crime; the crime of abandoning a loved one to the wilderness.

The Angel of Lost Children. Bazaart collage and “Purts” setting in Virtual Painter.

Why does a doll, an inanimate object, hold such a place of psychic charge, of emotional power on The Doll Stage of my soul? She was my first loss; she went ahead of me and created the Room of Inconsolable Grief that is now always there just off stage. Betsy lives there in the good company of my father and a black dog named Fianna.

Dolls occupy a liminal space between the rational and the irrational, between form and its shadow, between daylight and dream. The psychodramas of childhood doll play became the dark well of Mystery that I draw on daily in my art, in all the details of a passionate life lived for and in art.

“The Time Travelers Appear Before Me On the Forest Floor.” I made this image this morning in response to the Daily Create challenge to think inside the box for once instead of outside the box. Again, the theme of the lost dolls in the forest spontaneously surfaces. I am on the left, contemplating their appearance once again. Yellow Bird, why do you come?

I return to the theme of dolls again and again in my Mysterious Night Vision Field Journal (soon to be an online class. Stay tuned by subscribing to, the website for our online art classes.). I find them deeply satisfying. The dolls speak to me of my many interior worlds; they act out on The Doll Stage that is the theatrical doorway to the old growth forest of my mind.

 It turns out that I am the “Angel who startles the stuffed skins into life. Angel and Doll: A real play, finally.”

“Angel and Doll: A real play, finally.” Bazaart app for iPad.

Are you a doll lover, too? Some people hate dolls and find them creepy–I will write about that next time. Is there something in your life that acts as dolls do for me, as intermediary objects between daylight and the place where you do art, that waking dream?

Please share your thoughts in the comment field below, or the one at the very top of the page–between the two “The Lost Doll” titles where it says “Leave a Comment.”–I’d love to hear from you!

8 thoughts on “The Lost Doll”

  1. Janhavi McKenzie – Artist, Healer, Teacher, Guide Self taught artist. Studied Spiritual Healing from Healing in America. Studied Advanced level Coaching skills with International Coach Academy. Studied Constellation Work with Stephen Victor. Have taught yoga, meditation, energy work and led women's spiritual groups.
    Janhavi says:

    Sandy, this is a beautiful reflection. I wonder if by leaving your doll in the wild, you opened the door of the wild within yourself?
    thank you for this glorious reflection.

  2. Thank you Sandy for your experience in doll world that has been similar to my own. Instead of losing a precious one, my dolls were waiting nearly sixty years to become real children. As a child I taught them reading, writing, math and social skills in a magical corner in our attic. Teaching was passionate goal. After attending Iowa State Teaching College, life took numerous detours in my life, but the dolls were always there beckoning me to return to the dream reality. In 2007 I completed my degree and received my teaching credential, only to face a freeze on hiring in our area. I’ve been working with passion as a sub until last week. I was was hired, and the dream has life!

    1. Pamela,
      Congratulations–what wonderful news!You asked me for information regarding academic publication; does that mean you are back in graduate school now–or does the new job preempt that? It’s notable that you are starting your full time teaching career just as I am retiring from mine; at least I have it dialed back to seven classes a year, notably down from my all-time high of nineteen.

      I have often wondered if the loss of that beloved doll presaged that I would have no children of my own but would, instead invest my career years in teaching thousands of students. Teaching is as if, as Rilke says, “An Angel has to come and make the stuffed skins startle into life. A real play–finally!”

      Thanks for stopping by my humble blog, and happy startling!

  3. “The Room of Inconsolable Grief” – what a concept. Do you ever visit, or does the door lock from the inside?

    I actually have a few very old dolls, interesting characters introduced by fate in a flea market, perhaps. I love to wonder who the first kids were who beheld them, how their joy must have lifted the hearts of those who gave them…

    This is indeed a wonderful story! Looking forward to more of this project!

    1. John,
      That “Room of Inconsolable Grief” is not anywhere anyone wants to go on purpose! But I love the idea that it “locks from the inside.” I would love to see your old dolls sometime and maybe we could photograph them? THanks for tuning in; I really appreciate it!

  4. What a beautiful reflection on childhood love and loss and internal soul works…I don’t remember being much of a doll person as a kid, perhaps when I was very young, but what really caught my imagination was the menagerie of stuffed animals that took up residence in the spacious bedroom come playroom that my sister and I shared in Budapest before we escaped and left it all behind when I was seven. I particularly remember a huge giraffe, about twice my size and the stories my father would tell about the animals. These beautiful stuffed animals were created by a famous German firm (can’t remember the name), and my father particularly enjoyed bringing them home and introducing them to us…when we finally arrived in Canada some two years after our escape, my father continued with stories of these fantastic African animals and their adventures. These precious times with him eased our transition into a whole new world not just for us kids, but for him too.

    1. Kinga, Thank you for that beautiful story. I love the way many people’s stories can constellation around a theme making us all richer for the listening.

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