It’s officially the end of the summer here in Tasmania, because school starts tomorrow! (we still have at least a month of stunningly hot weather, but the holiday part is over) I’ve had a pretty good January, spending time with my daughters and managing their social lives. We’ve been to the theatre twice — a local production of Wicked which blew the roof off the Theatre Royal, and a very modern and fun take on Alice in Wonderland in the Botanical Gardens.
We’ve been making art and rollerskating and listening to the Moana soundtrack on high repeat. Idyllic childhood stuff, right? (I have not, it cannot be stressed enough, been rollerskating personally)
I’ve also been building a new business.
THE STORY SO FAR
50 years ago this week, Tasmania burned. Fires tore through our state, destroying houses and lives and communities. The ’67 fires are still remembered as the worst of our history. One day after the bushfires were at their worst, my mother Jilli arrived in Tasmania – a young English traveller on a working holiday, who found the mainland heat too much to bear. So she came here, to find Hobart in crisis mode, the bush around the city blackened and charred. She stayed.
30 or so years ago, my mother (then an art student, supporting us with her home typing business) took me on a drive to Nicholls Rivulet, a particularly bushy bit of country Tasmania, south of the city in the Huon Valley. We were on a visit to the Deepings Woodturner, a studio surrounded by gum-trees and orchards, where Adrian and Roslyn Hunt ran their business. Among the bowls and needle-cases and chopping boards were the Deepings Dolls, small wooden figurines painted in historical costume with an ACTUAL METAL NIB QUILL PEN, using sepia inks. They were looking for a new artist to paint the dolls, and they found what they wanted in Jilli. Over the years, they added many new artists to their line, exporting the Deepings Dolls all over the world, and the look of the dolls changed, moving away from the translucent inks to more solid paint, though my mother still uses pen more than paintbrush, because of the tiny miniature detail necessary.
10 years ago, Adrian and Roslyn retired, and sold the Deepings Dolls portion of their business to my and my mother. They liked the idea of the Deepings Dolls continuing. We didn’t have the beautiful studio (the property is now owned by Peregrine School, but I still regularly get emails from people wanting to visit it) – Adrian’s former apprentice, Christine Baker, now turns the doll shapes while my mother Jilli is now the sole artist painting the dolls. They both work from their homes in Cygnet. I got to learn how to run a business out of my own home, with a toddler on my lap.
Deepings Dolls celebrate literature and history — we sell them out of several local galleries, at Port Arthur and Salamanca Place, Richmond and Cygnet. Popular doll designs include Tasmanian and Australian historical figures like Sir John & Lady Jane Franklin, Mawson, Bligh and Cook, Matthew Flinders with his cat, Ned Kelly. Also: convicts, shearers, swagmen, suffragettes, flappers, World War I & II nurses, the list goes on and on… there are also plenty of Deepings Dolls representing English history too, such as our epic set of Henry VIII and his three wives, Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen and… well, Jane Austen’s a pretty important one to our line.
So now we’re at now. I’ve been running the Deepings Dolls for a decade as a home business. My toddler has become a 12 year old high schooler. Much though we love the dolls, Jilli and I are both ready for some new challenges. So we just launched Alice & Austen: an online store specialising in historical and literary themed gifts. Our shop is all about art, gifts and merchandise celebrating the life and works of Jane Austen, as well as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Alice Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll. We’ll shortly be adding a Shakespeare range to the shop too, and then a History range. Drawing from a variety of different wholesalers, we have all kinds of fun goodies including plush toys, mugs, magnets, cushions, jewellery, and two of my all-time favourites: Jane Austen action figures, and Jane Austen temporary tattoos.
And yes, the Deepings Dolls are there as well! Our Jane Austen, Elizabeth & Darcy, Queen of Hearts and Alice dolls are all exclusive to Alice & Austen. We’ll continue to sell a select range of the dolls from the online shop, and to distribute our wider range through those bricks and mortar galleries we still have relationships with.
Meanwhile, Jilli is working on some entirely new art that will utilise her detailed knowledge of costume history and her quirky sense of humour in completely different ways. I’ve also been making art again, returning to my love of textiles and embroidery with a series of hand-stitched crazy quilt bookmarks, cushions and brooches.
Raeli and Jemima have got in on the family business, helping out with photography and parcel-wrapping. Expect some super cute parcels if you order with us! Raeli has also created some fabulous cartoon designs for us to use in the store — I can’t wait to share her first mug with you. My mother’s talent has clearly carried over to my daughter, who is as handy with a graphics tablet as Jilli is with a quill.
Come and check us out. Special offer for this week only — if you use the code DRINKME at checkout, you get 15% off your entire first order. All orders over $40 this month receive a free Alice & Austen canvas tote bag.