Truly Annalee – Portraits of an Artist


Annalee Thorndike was truly one-of-a-kind. She was clever and creative as well as bold and demanding. A true artist you might say.

Most artists sometime during their career look to themselves when creating their art. Artists use self-portraits as a way to study features and movement more effectively, to give others a view into their lives, history, and surroundings, to show people their artistic skill, and to express how they feel. All of these examples apply to Annalee Thorndike. Most of all, Annalee used her own image as the foundation for her art. It’s widely known that Annalee studied her face extensively and sketched and sketched and sketched individual components of her face to create varied expressions. She was always looking into mirrors and making facial sketches. She was even known to use a copier machine on occasion. Some say the face of every Annalee design is really a reflection, in one way or another, of Annalee herself.

9in Truly Annalee 90th Anniversary Portrait DollTo celebrate the 90th anniversary of Annalee Dolls, the elves have created a very special tribute portrait doll of Annalee. Truly Annalee is a meticulously crafted exclusive that depicts a day in the life of the legendary doll maker. It shows the artist in a timeless pose studying herself in a mirror and sketching her facial expressions on a canvas. Each of the 250 limited-edition dolls have been handcrafted with precision and care to reflect the detail for which Annalee is celebrated worldwide. Made from high-quality felt, the portrait doll captures the essence of Annalee’s signature style, including her casual clothes and shoes. Even her accompanying little mouse friend sitting among a pile of colorful felt rolls comes from Annalee’s earliest inspirations on her farm. Most of all, Truly Annalee is a very special homage to her artistry.

During her lifetime, Annalee “allowed” the design and production of three other portrait dolls. These were truly “self-portrait” dolls, as Annalee supervised their creation. The first was the 1982 10-inch Annalee Artist Doll, which features her surrounded with paint buckets and painting dolls’ faces. The next self-portrait doll came in 1990, the 10-inch Annalee Collector Doll featuring her holding a doll in each arm while two others hug her legs.

Gracie Blackey, head designer at Annalee Dolls, worked with Annalee on the 1990 design. She remembers Annalee being very demanding of her design team in preparing this doll. “In 1990, she had a whole new design team (including me), and we had been given the task to work with her on creating his self-portrait design,” Blackey recalls. “At the time Annalee was an older woman, and we made the first draft with gray hair. She did not like that at all. She was very firm when she said ‘I do not have gray hair!’ That doll ended up with blond hair.”

The blond hair would continue for 2002’s A World of Love design (though decidedly less blond). This design depicted Annalee as the dotting grandmother to the world, telling tall tales to children and critters while sitting around a globe. It was labeled as “Annalee Thorndike’s Final Artist Doll,” and so it would be. Annalee died in April of 2002.

To honor Annalee’s legacy, a tribute portrait doll was released in 2003 titled Whimsicalee Annalee. “We wanted to capture her true essence with this doll, show the Annalee that we all knew in person,” Blackey says. “It was based on a photograph and our memories. Her pose, her expression, her hair, her clothing were all created from that photo. She’s wearing a black oversized sweater with a sneaker on the front. She actually wore that sweater all the time. It was so uniquely Annalee. We added a tape measure around her neck because that was also part of her daily uniform while working. We did make this doll with gray hair.”

Socialee Annalee
Socialee Annalee

Annalee’s fans demanded more and another portrait doll was released a year later in 2004 – 10-inch Socialee Annalee. It features her holding her “to-do” flat of design ideas and thoughts. “Oh my gosh,” Blackey says, “that flat was a true representation of the real thing. It was full of her every thought — good and bad — about everything. Even us, her designers. It was the Annalee we knew.”

Now 20 years later, with Annalee’s legacy stronger than ever, the Truly Annalee exclusive is making its debut. “We wanted to create a design for the company’s 90th anniversary that once again captured the realness of Annalee as well as honored her creative artistry,” Blackey adds. “Once again we chose clothing that she truly wore all the time. The striped shirt and the sneakers was an iconic look for her. And she was always designing. To me, this portrait design captures her perfectly. The name really says it all — Truly Annalee.”