Penelope O’Gara studied theatre and costume design at Exeter University and Southern Methodist University in Dallas before putting together an impressive CV of professional costume work, including with puppets. Dolls as medium spoke to Penelope not only because of her career experience, but more deeply because of the symbolic resonance of their historical use as totems. Her work explores ritual objects, archetypes and symbolism. At the heart of what she creates is a narrative, and Penelope’s calling is to go deeper. She explains, “whether working in two dimensions or three, story-telling is at the heart of my work. Each character has a unique tale to share – I am currently exploring ways to stitch in symbolic elements to further deepen the narrative.”
The dolls are usually based on characters from Penelope’s journals. They are sustainable art—she uses recycled cotton cloth, silk scraps, antique lace and old velvets. She dips them in dye and adds particular details using pastels and graphite. Penelope says that her method of allowing the fabrics to show through paint reminds her of old film grain.
Penelope’s work is inspired by the myths and legends of Avalon. She explains, “Since moving to the Somerset Levels, I have been increasingly drawn to the spirit of the place. Burrowing into the treasure trove of English folklore and local fauna, I find myself creating liminal creatures that cross the divide between animal and human, mythic and mortal.” Penelope has created hand-stitched dolls of totem animals like rabbits, which symbolise fertility and immortality and are common in Avalonian iconography.