20 years ago, Bets van Boxel, along with her Husband Jos, decided to actively pursue her hobby of re-creating children of the world into dolls. Bets has always been fascinated by people and the stories they have to tell, simply by how they look – their emotion, their body language and overall outward appearance. She and Jos travel the world extensively, spending most of their time in places that provide a glimpse into what traditional life is truly like for natives. Today, they have set a world-class standard in doll making.
“De Poppenstee,” Dutch for “Dolls house,” is located in a traditional “Langstraat”, or farmhouse, in Waspik, Netherlands. Bets, along with Daughter Amy, sculpt each doll and custom create all of the clothing and accessories, while Jos constructs the molds and pours the porcelain. The “Dolls House” is complete with a doll studio, a doll shop, and gallery where you will find a permanent exhibition of their complete doll collection.
Meet Bets and her Family…
Bets started working at an early age as a seamstress, and painted portraits and landscapes in her spare time. When Amy and her sister were young, she remembers her Mom always bringing along some canvases on vacation throughout Europe so that she could paint the people and landscapes.
She enjoyed her hobby so much, that she attended St. Joost Art School in the Netherlands during evening hours. She was always finding ways to show more and more detail in the artwork she created and eventually decided to take a stab at three (3) dimensional “portraits.” Bets felt she could capture a more complete picture of her subject, from their posture and expression to the finite details in their clothing. She began with character dolls, made from self-hardening modeling clay, that represented people she knew and came into contact with during her childhood – a blacksmith, a baker, a couple sitting on a park bench enjoying each other’s company.
In 1975, Bets started selling her dolls at local shows and exhibitions, and hosting doll making classes in her spare time. When she realized she was spending more time on her passion for doll making than she was at her day job, Bets and husband Jos made the decision to start their very own Doll business. They heard, through the Waspik parish priest that the old “Langstraat” or farmhouse, called “Stee” at ‘t Vaartje 14 was for sale – the same farmhouse that Bets fell in love with as a little girl walking past every day to and from school. They purchased “Stee,” Jos rebuilt the old stables into a gallery and art studio, and, on the 3rd of October, 1986, the Mayor of Waspik officially opened “De Poppenstee.”
Bets, who is always looking to improve upon previous work, was introduced to the skill of porcelain doll making in 1988. Porcelain, she discovered, in addition to its strength and durability, would provide the most realistic skin tones for her dolls. About the same time, Bets and Jos started to travel to more exotic and far away countries, becoming fascinated by the children they would meet on their journeys.
This combination of porcelain and her love of travel, allowed Bets to develop her now, well-known style of porcelain dolls. She has a remarkable gift for capturing the overall essence of each person she transforms into a doll, and their country.
Unlike other materials, there is a significant amount of time involved in using porcelain: several days of drying time up to 12 hours for each layer of paint. Bets goes to great lengths to use as many authentic fabrics and accessories as possible she finds on her travels, and handcrafts each and every outfit herself. The addition of handcrafted crystal eyes and genuine human and/or mohair wigs puts these dolls on a level few can replicate.
In 1996, after her studies at the Design Academy in Eindhoven, the Netherlands and a career as an industrial designer, Amy started working together with her parents. Shortly thereafter, they began their yearly trips to the United States and have become a regular exhibitor at the Nurnberg Toy Fair. In 2001, after watching her Mom make dolls as a girl and working hand in hand with her mother at “De Poppenstee”, Amy began to create her own unique collection of dolls in porcelain.
“De Poppenstee” manages to consistently create masterpieces they call dolls. Their continuous source of inspiration comes from the children Bets and Jos meet and photograph on their travels. In addition, Bets receives great joy in translating her four (4) grandchildren into porcelain masterpieces.
In 2005, Bets was awarded the Max-Oscar-Arnold Award in Europe for her complete body of work. Her dolls are truly works of art and find loving homes all over the world.