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To Annalee Thorndike, a doll was always an idea first. Its inspiration could come from anywhere. Skiing, watching her children play, a car ride, a story in a children’s book, a memory. Once there was an idea, that was the beginning of a doll. That’s where the work began.
Usually it was a sketch or a face that Annalee would design first at her kitchen table and later in her design studio office. Annalee also was known to sketch many of her faces and design ideas in the car while on Sunday drives with her husband, Chip. Slowly but surely faces and patterns were created, sometimes from scraps of paper pinned together, then the sewing machines hummed, scissors flew, and Annalee’s thimble was never at rest.
Today, Annalee’s legacy lives on because she cared so deeply about her designs. They were personal to her—characters that enchanted her life and imagination. She wanted people to see an expression such as a wink of an eye or any variety of smile and be reminded of certain people or happenings in their lives. Her designs embodied her whole personality, which she so eagerly wanted to share with others. According to Gracie Blackey, who worked directly with Annalee and currently serves as chief designer at Annalee Dolls, “She was an ardent student of people—their movements, the positions, their faces. She had a really good idea of what a face looked like. What was in the here and now.”
That’s why today, 100+ years since she was born, Annalee (and her protege elves) are still bringing her designs to life through all the dedicated details she left behind. How you might ask? Today, a face Annalee designed decades ago can be easily replicated and updated because it has been cataloged and saved. That’s because Annalee fiercely protected her designs and trademarked each and every one. All of the artwork used for each doll’s face or other markings and pattern notations, such as dots on a dog or stripe on a zebra or any of her trademark smiles, exists in Annalee’s original hand-drawn work. Every detailed wrinkle, dimple, and squiggly brow hair used today was Annalee approved. So today, all of her numerous variations of faces and designs can be adapted to create something new. Yet they are all still completely always Annalee. “There are actually millions of ways to present her faces due to her designs,” says Blackey.
That’s why every year when the elves gather together and plan out new collections for all holidays and occasions, Annalee is still there among them. Her influence (and actual artwork) is all around them and inspires every design idea. Each new design celebrates the creativity, perfectionism, and dedication of Annalee herself, because it all always comes together from her original ideas.
February 11, 2024 would have been Annalee’s 109th birthday. Every February we like to pause and remember our creative founder and celebrate the incredible legacy she left her in wake. In honor of Annalee’s birthday weekend, all orders $109 or more placed between 2/10/24 – 2/12/24 will receive a free 6in Hooray Mouse. 2024 also marks the 90th anniversary of Annalee Dolls, a momentous occasion that our founder would want celebrated. We look forward to some incredible new exclusives, special additions to our holiday collections, community design contests, and more! Thank you for being part of Annalee’s very merry traditions.