Denise Roberson makes dolls, representations of strength and beauty outfitted in unique fabric and embellished with things like shells, beads, wire and ribbons.
“A lot of my dolls are made to recognize the strength and beauty of women,” she said. “Through my work, I am trying to recognize my own beauty and strength, and for other women to see their strength and not get mislead, lost, used and abused. If we women could see ourselves as we are, for who we are, the world would be different.”
People have made comments to Roberson about her work being spiritual, but that is not her intention. Some have even suggested voodoo.
“I don’t like it when people ask me about voodoo and my dolls. One woman said ‘spiritual’ meets voodoo,” Roberson said, “It’s not funny but I laugh it off, maybe it’s a black thing on their part. I guess it is all a matter of what they’ve been exposed to and they don’t know any better.”
Roberson grew up in Oakland, Calif. She made her first “doll” in seventh grade. It was a knock-off Barbie in an Elizabethan outfit. “We were studying Shakespeare,” she said. “In a book, I saw the clothes they wore at that time and I dressed the doll for a project.”
Around that time, Roberson’s mother began teaching her how to sew. “We made clothes because we could not afford to buy them,” Roberson said. “Creativity out of necessity.”
Roberson sewed her own clothes for years, never considering her sewing skills an art form until her mother took her to a doll-making workshop lead by a well-known doll-maker, Elinor Peace Bailey. After that, doll-making became her passion, fueled even more by an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s show.
“She was asking her audience, ‘What is your mission?’ and I declared that mine was to make beautiful things that make people happy.”
Roberson, 58, moved to the Spokane area in early 2006. Her boyfriend, James Broussard, a truck driver, had driven through the area and stopped for a break. “When his feet touched the ground, he said he felt like he was home,” Roberson explained, “He was born here and then adopted.”
Broussard has searched for his birth parents, to no avail. All he knows is that his mother was white, his father was black, and a note pinned to him read: Baby boy Melby.
Roberson has lived through some tragedies, as many people do. “As a woman, as a black woman, I have been treated as ‘less than,’ but through my work, I am trying to find myself again and help others do the same.”
A member of River Ridge Association of Fine Arts, Roberson has exhibited her creations at a half-dozen events and has sold well.
“There have been times when I made a doll for someone and it just did not look right to me. I would get frustrated trying to make the doll look the way I wanted it to. I would give up and presented the doll to the client and she would smile and laugh,” she said. “I realized the doll didn’t need to look right to me, but to its owner. When the energy is right, the person feels it and the doll ends up where it belongs.”
Currently, she shows her dolls and fiber art at Northwest Artist Co-op in Coeur d’Alene, Anatopia Thrift Boutique in the Garland District and at Manic Moon Studios, 1625 N. Monroe St., where she is scheduled to lead doll workshops.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.