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Shaler native returns home as doll-making artist-in-residence

| Monday, July 20, 2015, 9:10 p.m.
Daniel Baxter's creations on a table during a Kreepy doll workshop at the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District on Friday, July 17, 2015.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Daniel Baxter's creations on a table during a Kreepy doll workshop at the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District on Friday, July 17, 2015.
Terri Hamm, middle, of Ross Township, creates a Kreepy doll during a workshop at the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District on Friday, July 17, 2015.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Terri Hamm, middle, of Ross Township, creates a Kreepy doll during a workshop at the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District on Friday, July 17, 2015.
Daniel Baxter, right, resident artist at the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District, teaches Patty Mendys, of South Park, how to make a Kreepy doll during a workshop on Friday, July 17, 2015.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Daniel Baxter, right, resident artist at the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District, teaches Patty Mendys, of South Park, how to make a Kreepy doll during a workshop on Friday, July 17, 2015.
Natalie Sweet, of East End, creates a Kreepy doll during a workshop at the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District on Friday, July 17, 2015.
Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Natalie Sweet, of East End, creates a Kreepy doll during a workshop at the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District on Friday, July 17, 2015.
Kreepy dolls
SOCIETY FOR CONTEMPORARY CRAFT
Kreepy dolls
Daniel Baxter at work creating his Kreepy dolls.
SOCIETY FOR CONTEMPORARY CRAFT
Daniel Baxter at work creating his Kreepy dolls.

You can sketch your Kreepy Doll shape ahead of time if you want. But if you prefer, just pick up some fabric and start cutting, artist Daniel Baxter tells his students as they try their hand in a doll-making class.

“There's no rules,” said Baxter, resident artist this summer at the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District. “It's going to be a Kreepy Doll ... no matter what.”

These stuffed cloth dolls come in all shapes and styles, and they may or may not have a face. They look more quirky than creepy — they're not so much scary as cartoonish. No two of these handmade Kreepy Dolls are alike.

Baxter makes his living as the artist and “proprietor” of the Kreepy Doll Factory, which has no brick-and-mortar location, but follows Baxter wherever his studio might be at the moment, whether at home or, for this summer, at the society. After spending time living in Brooklyn, N.Y., from 2005 to 2010, Baxter is now back in his hometown of Shaler, where he grew up and graduated from Shaler Area High School in 1998. He is the artist-in-residence at Contemporary Craft, where he will be creating and displaying his dolls and doing presentations.

“I call myself a one-man factory,” said Baxter, 34, who spends an hour or two creating each doll and has made 5,000 to 6,000 of them. Each doll has its own name.

In a weekend class, Baxter taught a handful of people how to make a Kreepy Doll using recycled cloth materials and polyester filling. Terri Hamm, 61, of Ross, used a pen to push stuffing into a cloth shell that looked a bit like a misshapen star or amoeba. What is this doll supposed to be?

“I don't know yet,” Hamm said. “It looks organic.

“I got taken in by the title Kreepy Doll,” Hamm said about her decision to enroll in the class. “It's a lot of fun.”

Patty Mendys of South Park put together a doll that looked a bit like a Mrs. Potato Head, and she said she is making it up as she goes.

The doll experience is subjective, and different people might see different things in dolls and other items that look like one, Baxter said. “No matter what it is — the doll might be a teapot or might be a leaf from a tree — it comes to life for whomever finally finds it, and it's theirs.”

Baxter always loved art and drawing, and skipped the occasional class in high school to work on his sketches. He earned a degree in Fine Art Drawing from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 2003. He later moved to Brooklyn — making his dolls, originally inspired by a college friend — and working as a puppet-maker and designer for an IFC television show called “Food Party.”

“I never really expected myself to end up making Kreepy Dolls, but when I found that this was a thing ... that I could do, I instantly became interested,” Baxter said. People who saw his doll art “always enjoyed it and loved it.

“I realized, well everyone loves this, I've got to keep doing this. People don't know exactly what they're going to like until people see it.”

One of the joys of his doll art is the uniqueness of each creation and knowing it will appeal to someone, somewhere.

“It's my mission to come up with one-of-a-kind things no one's seen before ... and make people realize that the world around us is made by us,” Baxter said. When he makes a doll, “I'm making something for somebody right now, but I don't know who. But that person will come along.”

Janet McCall, executive director of the Society for Contemporary Craft, says Baxter fits the society's mission well, and gives visitors an up-close look at a creative artist.

“One of our core values ... is using the arts to build community, and it's very important to us to provide opportunities to everyone,” McCall said. “A great way to do that is to put them face to face with the artist.”

People can “go away with this inspiration,” McCall said. “After seeing Daniel's Kreepy Dolls they will go home and ... be inspired to make something.”

The society began the summer artist-in-residence program in 2013, with Baxter as the third artist. His residency complements the society's upcoming art exhibition called “Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art,” which opens Sept. 18.

Baxter is working on a special line of dolls that will be sold in September at Contemporary Craft. These products are big Kreepy Doll heads filled with a surprise assortment of dolls and pieces of dolls that you can use to make your own.

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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