by Mack McConnell
(Feature in the December 2004 issue
of the "Rural Montana")
When Juelie McLean makes a doll, it's not just a doll. It's a piece of art. Juelie, internationally known as the Santa Lady, creates finely-crafted, hand-made dolls, mostly in the image of Santa Claus. The dolls go to customers across the nation and as far away as Japan. No two dolls are the same. Their intricate and highly detailed costumes and their hand painted porcelain faces and hands give them personalities all their own. These are not generic Santas clothed in red and white. They represent a myriad of nationalities and motifs. Many customers display them year-round. Old world Santas are her favorites.
"These Santas are meant to become family heirlooms that can be passed down from generation to generation and become family traditions,", says Juelie.
The extraordinary dolls are full-bodied and mounted on sturdy wooden stands. Most of them are about 26 inches tall.
"I've made smaller ones but they just didn't have the elegance and flow I wanted," Juelie says.
Juelie does all the sewing, quilting, beading and so on. The finished product may cost anywhere from $500 to $950 depending on the amount of work required to make it. She just finished a wedding gown Santa that included hours of hand beading. That doll will cost in the $950 range. A prime component in many of the dolls is fur.
"I use vintage furs," says Juelie. "I encourage families to bring in grandma's old fur stashed away in the attic. I have used lots of kinds of furs including rabbit, sheepskin, mink and fox. I don't work from pelts. I used ocelot once for a Santa for a Hollywood photographer. If a customer doesn't have a vintage fur, I have lots of them. Often a customer has a garment, whether it be fur or wool or a wedding gown, or something else, that they want incorporated into the doll. It's often a garment that belonged to someone who has passed away. Having part of the garment of the loved one featured in the doll helps keep the memory of that person alive." Most of the dolls are made for custom orders. Depending on her schedule, it usually takes four to six weeks to fill an order. "The dolls are not commercial style," says Juelie. "They're works of art, I put my heart and soul into them."
Juelie's fascination with Santas goes beyond the dolls. Her website, http://www.santalady.com/ is a treasure trove of Santa information including a history of how the original Santa, St. Nicholas, evolved into other versions of Christmas gift givers in various countries and regions. Their costume included many colors. The modern, most accepted red and white version is often credited to world-wide 20 th century advertising by the Coca Cola Company.
The original Santa, St. Nicholas, wore red because it was the bishop's color. When Protestants broke away from the Catholic Church, the color and the name changed according to the views and tastes of peoples in many lands. There was even a fairy tale Santa-like gift giver in Communist Russia.
Juelie makes Santa dolls featuring aspects of many countries. She also makes "Woodland Santas" and others geared to motifs rather than nationalities. She has also made a couple of Kwanzaa dolls for African Americans. Kwanzaa is an Afro-American tradition based on African harvest celebrations. She also made a Native American Santa and makes Indian Kiyuwaste dolls as well. The site also has features antique post cards, how to instructions for Christmas games, collectors' bulletin boards and links to other quality Christmas websites. "I'm a retired school teacher and I want to make the site as educational as possible," Juelie says. "I'm glad to hear that going to the site has become a Christmas tradition for some families." The site gets many thousands of hits monthly, and hundreds of thousands during the Christmas season.
Juelie is also a commercial website designer and has designed sites for companies and organizations around the country.
She was inspired to begin making the Santa dolls when she and her mother were looking at Santa dolls in a department store many years ago. "I can remember telling my mother, îI can do that.' And that's how it got started." She started selling the dolls at craft and gift shows. Then she sold most of her dolls through the Nieman Marcus. That lasted for about five years, then, "We went our separate ways," says Juelie. So in 1996, she established her website and that continues to be her main sales outlet. She plans to continue making custom dolls. "I enjoy the challenge and I've met a lot of wonderful people. I'm good friends with the Santa General of Norway. They are (Santas) unionized there. Some day, however, I want to also get into making really elaborate angels."
Return to Santalady's Main Page
MT Man Santa/Kiyuwaste Dolls
Santas From Your "Wedding" Gown
Meet the Artist
Brief History of Santa
Gift Givers of the World
Santalady's Antique Santa Postcards
Santalady's Victorian Christmas GIFS
Webdesign by Juelie
Vintage Santa Musical DVD
Santa Bulletin Board
Santa Collector's Bulletin Board
Santalady's Book Shoppe
Santalady's Favorite Links
Doll House Accessories
Juelie's State Flower Garden of GIFS