Charla Khanna’s dolls – Terry Grant

If you are an art quilter and find yourself stuck in the art/craft-which-is-it? vortex, can you even imagine the assumptions people have about doll makers? I have made a few dolls, but don’t think of myself as a dollmaker. Still, I have a fascination with them, being sometimes magical little effigies, sometimes alter egos, sometimes haunting and spooky and more often sweet and cloying. Think of all the “baggage” the whole concept of dolls carries, made even more cumbersome by feminist notions of whether little girls need to play with dolls, especially esteem damaging numbers like Barbie and her cohorts. So, with all this in mind I was hesitant to feature a doll artist here. I can hear June snorting frantically as I write this!

I became aware of Charla Khanna’s dolls a number of years ago. She does not have a web site, so I began saving images, in a folder, when I found them for the simple pleasure of being able to go back, from time to time to enjoy looking at them. I find them quite unsentimental, beautifully imagined and equally beautifully conceived. Like good art should, they seem to me filled with meaning and intention and crafted with joy. I was delighted to see a profile of her in the newest issue of Fiberarts magazine.

Here are a few of the images I have filched over several years:




You can see more images at the Jane Sauer Gallery site.

I’m not sure I have anything very profound to say about this work, except that it moves me in some way. I see it not as a child’s toy, but more like a small piece of sculpture that has that primitive appeal of the human form abstracted in a way that makes us both connect with and marvel at our level of self-recognition. I enjoyed this article about the gift of a Charla Khanna doll and the iconic status it took on in the recipient’s life.


9 Responses to “Charla Khanna’s dolls – Terry Grant”

  1. 1 Gregg June 19, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Do you still market Charla’s dolls?

  2. 2 carolwiebe November 21, 2008 at 10:55 am

    I was fortunate enough to see Charla Khanna’s dolls at the Thirteen Moons Gallery in New Mexico a few years ago. I was absolutely captivated by them. Her work was exquisite: each doll had a story to tell by the dress that she wore. I loved that the head, arms and legs were very simple, but the dress was incredibly detailed. Those were lovely hours I spent there: which I shall not forget.

  3. 3 Bonne West June 3, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    In 2001 I had the pleasure of acquiring 5 of Charla Khanna’s dolls (her earlier works). I am in the process of moving and will not be able to take my treasures with me. I would like to have information on collectors that would possibly be interested in purchasing these art dolls from me. I can be reached on my cell at 928 379-3933 or by e-mail at

    I look forward to hearing from ??????????.

    Regards, Bonnie West

  4. 4 virginia April 11, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    What an interesting web site. I happen to be lucky enough to have acquired one of Charlas’ dolls through my Aunt Lani who has since died of cancer. I cherish this piece of art on so many levels. Although simpler than many of these dolls pictured it is by no means less spiritually moving and magical. I think that maybe it is one of her earlier works.
    It is great to find a thread of Charla admirers.

  5. 5 catherine March 22, 2008 at 6:49 am

    To me Charla Khanna’s dolls look sort of like votive images: small human figures traditionally offered to the gods as stand-ins for an absent human worshipper. They have some of the same mysterious appeal, in a secular age, as Keith Haring’s unauthorized drawings in the New York subway stations (see – drawings sometimes compared to ancient cave paintings.

  6. 6 Olga March 21, 2008 at 1:15 am

    Jane, thank you for the introduction to Chris Bivins’ work. I love it – they certainly speak to me too, and I must admit more directly or personally than Khanna’s or Blount’s dolls.

  7. 7 Jane Davila March 20, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Khanna’s dolls are so simple and graphic and powerful, and they are really appealing. They remind me a little of Akira Blount’s work –

    I had dabbled in art dollmaking about 12 years ago, but the prejudice of the Art establishment against “dolls” was insurmountable for me and I gave up. At this point, if I was still making them, I might be inclined to call myself an assemblage artist working in anthropomorphic shapes. Or a bricoleur of the human form (my new favorite word – bricoleur: someone who invents his or her own strategies for using existing materials in a creative, resourceful, and original way, someone whose technique is bricolage – it would look good on a business card, no?)

    Chris Bivins, an artist in the Pacific NW United States, makes some wonderful assemblage figures and some of them have cloth bodies. They really speak to me (so to speak). His website is

    Thanks for sharing Khanna’s work, Terry. It’s wonderful.

  8. 8 June March 19, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    And how, pray tell, does one “snort frantically?” –snort–

    In cleaning up after a recent plumbing disaster, I discovered, hidden under layers of papers on my bulletin board, a lovely twig doll with wire hair and a purse that Marion Barnett sent me years ago. And Catherine Jones made dolls out of something like cardboard — flat, at any rate — that had movable limbs attached with rivets. They were, of course, dressed in exquisite patterns.

    I once made a story teller doll for my granddaughter, complete with 8 children. Alas, she wasn’t interested at all, except for a morbid fascination with the fact that the story teller’s head kept flopping over. I still have that doll somewhere, GD having no interest in keeping it with her.

    I get spooked by all these creatures, sometimes. Too anthropomorphic. What if they turned out to be evil presences? Not that mine have (although thinking of the plumbing….) but if they guard the house, they could also disrupt it.

  9. 9 Olga March 19, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    These have magical status: sometimes such elements exist which do not fall into any category, and which enhance the lives of those they touch.

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