The ultimate in fantasy collectibles finds its origin right here in Kingston at the Tonner Doll Company, where Robert Tonner manifests his 20-year-long absorption in sculpting and producing dolls and character figures. It’s said that they are some of the most sought-after collectible products on the market today; and when you consider that people have a penchant for collecting anything and everything, that statement holds some weight.
Not so the actual products: Made primarily from high-quality vinyl and hard plastic, these miniature replicas of both fictional and real-life characters are as light as the dream world that they invoke, with hand-painted details, rooted imitation hair and designer costuming. Many are the recognizable characters from popular films like Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Superman, Harry Potter, Chicago, Batman, The Wizard of Oz and Pirates of the Caribbean. Holding licenses with Miramax, Warner Brothers, DC Comics, Disney and Sony Entertainment to sculpt and produce character figures, Tonner lends his personal talent to detailing the familiar features that have enchanted moviegoers-turned-collectors.
Other character lines are ones of his own invention, like “Tyler Wentworth,” based on a fictional Seventh Avenue fashion designer. Her exquisite wardrobe is crafted from couture-quality silks, cashmere and brocades. The backstory to this character has resulted in the production of an entire group of fashion models related to Tyler, all dressed to the nines and ready to impress.
Tonner’s background in the fashion industry informs much of his creative work. A graduate of Parsons School of Design, he was hired by Bill Blass and worked for Seventh Avenue for many years. He has always been interested in American glamour and the seeming way in which appearances represent a persona. His third-floor studio and office space is hung with original paintings of romantic visions from past eras. And his keen ability to replicate such images in clay, paint and fabric has led to this highly successful venture.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an active imagination. Tonner describes how another line, the “Cami and Jon” dolls, involves an elaborate backstory about their own adventures as young J. Crew-type New Yorkers. One of their friends, event planner “Andy Mills,” has recently been released – and outed! Tonner talks about his characters as a novelist speaks of the ones who inhabit her books – as if they take on a life of their own outside the creator’s purview. He says that everyone assumed that Andy Mills is gay; and with the spate of violence against homosexuals and the recent suicides, he felt that this character should make his own strong statement.
Doll-collecting has moved from trends in historical and cultural themes to well-known entertainment themes to this new character-driven sort of theme. There may not be a typical collector “type,” but it’s evident that a healthy imagination and delight in detailed artistry are both at play for modern collectors. Tonner still designs his own prototypes (an Avatar character is in the making right now) and spends a good portion of his time lecturing and presenting at doll conventions and other venues.
The Tonner Doll Company will hold a warehouse sale this Saturday, December 11 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Holiday Inn in Kingston. Come check out the world of collectible dolls, and after the sale join Robert Tonner from 1 to 3 p.m. for a signing in the Tonner Company Store, located at 14 Hurley Avenue in Kingston. Visit www.tonnerdirect.com for more information.