“They were the cutest thing I’ve ever seen,” says Jane Owen about the first time she came across an Annalee doll. “I was in a store in Birmingham, Alabama, that was filled with Christmas items. The Annalee dolls stood out to me. They were so different, so cute, so inviting, so friendly. I said ‘I have to have one!’ That’s the day my Annalee collection began.”
Jane’s Annalee collection began with a single mouse doll in 1973. Today it features 306 dolls—with more on the way. Jane, who lives in Alexander City, Alabama, displays her collection prominently throughout her house every Christmas season.
“I always add new items each year,” Jane says. “I just love my Annalee dolls. The dolls make me happy, let me escape, and create a wonderful friendly loving world. Annalee let’s you explore the good in life. The world can be difficult place, but Annalee dolls bring joy and beauty to the world.”
Jane recently won the Annalee Decorate Your Home for the Holidays photo contest featuring her stunning displays. Her displays were so magical—make that inspirational—that we had to know more about Jane and her collection.
How did you start collecting Annalee dolls, and why?
It all started with one doll in1973. I added other pieces through the years, but didn’t get serious about collecting until my three kids were grown. Now I hide the packages when they come in the mail. I just smile and keep moving along.
At first I just had the dolls sitting around the house. But I felt they needed to be doing something. The wireframe construction let me explore and be creative. The dolls could do things. So I wanted them to do things. So I started decorating with them. And it was an explosion from there. I would look at them and say, “This guy looks like he could hold a pot.” Or “this guy could hang from a mantle or tree.” It was my outlet for imagination. I was intrigued by all that you could do with the Annalee dolls.
What is it about Annalee dolls that inspires you to keep collecting them?
Their faces and the wireframe “moldability” really inspire me. But it’s definitely their faces that first inspire me to figure out how to display them. I have an elf doll in one display that’s riding a rooster. His face just spoke to me that he was supposed to be riding that rooster. I like to think up scenarios for all my dolls and their faces give me the ideas. I have to two other guys climbing my clock, with one holding the other as he falls. Those faces said to me… “Hold on!” So that’s how I displayed them.
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Do you have a favorite Annalee doll?
The Santa chef is probably my favorite. But I just love the mice, too.
Do you decorate or display Annalee dolls throughout the year, or just at Christmas?
I only collect for Christmas. I would love to collect all the other seasons, but it is a very labor-intensive job to display them all. So I made the decision to make Christmas my special season. I really take the time to make everything right. For example, my display where the dolls are cranking a gramophone: It took me four hours to get my doll positioned just right and set up.
Do you decorate the same each Christmas season, or do you change it up?
I make changes every year. But some things I keep the same every year. I always add something different each year. Next year I plan a really new scene: I’m calling it “A Trip to the North Pole.” It will feature elves and Santa and Christmas trees.
My kitchen display changes a lot from year to year. I can’t stop adding new items to it. If something new comes out I have to find a place for it. I do change things based on how easy they are to move.
How long does it take you to decorate your home with all these Christmas displays?
I start putting up my displays around October 15 of each year and try to have everything done by December 1. Often it takes five or more hours a day to get things right. Five years ago I started having a holiday open house for my friends and neighbors because I wanted to share my Annalee displays.
Tell us about your open houses?
I invite all the people in my neighborhood association. Plus all my hospital volunteer friends, and all my other friends and family. Winning the decorating contest this year has really sparked interest. I think my attendance will jump in 2017.
My grandchildren love my displays. Surprisingly, they don’t touch too much. But they love looking at them. I like to tell them stories about how the dolls are posed.
What do your friends and family think of your Annalee displays?
They ooh and aah. They are impressed. Now I’m creating for my friends. A friend of mine who also collects Annalee dolls asked me for help in how to display her dolls. She said she wanted her house “Jane-o-fied.” So I started making scene displays for her. I did a series of elves sitting on empty spools that came from an old textile mill. Now I’m making gift baskets for her featuring Annalee dolls.
Your displays were so professional. It’s like an interior decorator put everything together. Do you have this background?
I studied interior design in college for some time. I didn’t complete my degree, but it helped me with the way I decorate. People say I should have been an interior designer. My kitchen has been featured in Cottage Living magazine.
Do you have any recommendations for other collectors on how to display or decorate with Annalee dolls?
The kitchen seems to lend itself to the dolls. The chefs make that easy. Don’t just let your dolls stand there. Pose them. Use your imagination and let the dolls do something. Put them in scenarios to make them look even better. If you look at my displays you see that every doll is doing something. Even if it’s as simple as a little guy sitting near the fireplace to warm himself.
In many cases, you need more than one doll to make the scenes work. I love my display set out in the forest with Santa pulling the sled, with lots of mice. I also really love my little guy shoveling snow. The shovel came from a dollhouse collection.
My dolls are matched with many other items I’ve collected or created through the years. My fireplace scene features a red ladder. I had the ladder made to match my vision. A lot of my other smaller ladders are parakeet ladders designed for birdcages. I spray paint them red. For me, it’s all about having a vision and creating something. And Annalee dolls are the inspiration.
I love my chef and a mouse hanging on the pot rack in the kitchen. The scene reminds me of “Rubba dubba dub three men in a tub.” I have a wine rack that looks like a unicycle featuring Santa who looks like a mail carrier. My oldest elf (who is yellow now due to age and too much sun) is helping Santa carry the mail.
Tell us about your Christmas tree.
The tree is only two years old. But the tree gets more and more Annalee items each year. I stuff it with as much as I possibly can. The ladder going up the tree is a standard design element. But mine has a guy climbing the tree with lights. You’ve got to use your imagination that he’s going to hang the lights on the tree.
Next to the tree is a bar. I have a cute bar scene that gets bigger every year.
Your photos were so professional. Did you shoot them yourself?
These were professional photos. I hired a photograph to shoot them. A few years ago I said I wasn’t going to display my dolls anymore. But I wanted to have them photographed to document the displays. I’m making a booklet of all my photos and dolls to pass down to my children.
The photos really showed me how wonderful my collection is and how much I enjoy it. Plus, I met a friend who calls me the “Annalee Lady” and she convinced me to keep doing my displays and collecting. She was right. I enjoy collecting and displaying Annalee dolls too much. I’m not dead yet.
If you could have Annalee create a doll especially for you, what would it look like or represent?
I need a bigger Santa to greet my guests in my entryway. I would really love a Santa that’s around five feet tall.
Any final thoughts?
I hope I’m enlightening people to the joys of Annalee. These dolls are too wonderful and precious. I really want to get the message of Annalee out there and inspire others to collect and display their dolls. I’m just spreading the love.
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