Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dough Ditties

In the hands of Mary Sell, common ingredients yield a wide array of unique ornamental art

I know the artist best as my patient, long suffering editor – but that’s just the tip of her talents. Way back when, I knew her only casually at a church outside West Lafayette, Indiana. Later it was her husband, Stan, who stepped up to become the Head of Transportation and All Else for my folks after I moved back to Texas. I can’t even remember how I discovered Mary’s grammatical prowess. I do remember not to send manuscripts around the holidays when orders for dough ditties pile up!
But I digress.
Acorn Baby - designed for
March of Dimes
So…what are dough ditties? Quite literally, they’re objects made out of dough. The recipe is very ancient, dating back to the Aztecs or Incas. It’s published in her blog: How it is then processed into these intriguing figures requires more patience and skill than I can imagine. But if you do happen to be endowed with such enviable qualities, check out her blog. She explains it all. Many more of her pieces are featured on her website: . The variety boggles the mind.

Highland couple cake topper
Is anyone else practicing this obscure craft? Actually, some 30+ years ago, she apprenticed with the now world-renown dollmaker Diana Effner. You’ve probably seen ads for Diana’s work in women’s magazines. And, yes, there are others. Since the styles and subject matter of each artist are so distinctive, there’s no real competition. Searching "salt dough ornaments" or "bread dough ornaments" will show you what others are doing.

What led her to dough ditties, I had to ask. “When I was in my 20s, I started making dolls. I used papier mâché, corn husks, oven-baked clays - just about everything. Stan and I were exhibiting at a doll show when we met a young doll artist named Diana Effner and her husband Randy.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Mary Sell
Mary Sell grew up in Hammond, Indiana. She graduated from Purdue with a degree in English education, married Stan, and taught high school English until deciding that being a disciplinarian was not for her. For fifteen years she and Stan lived in the woods without electricity, sustained by their crafts and their huge garden. Their son Adam was born during this time. She remembers it as the best years of her life.
Not until 1992 did they enter the more traditional suburban scene (with electricity) where Mary worked as a legal secretary until retirement. Of course, when she’s not laboring letter-by-letter through my manuscripts, she still makes and markets dough ditties.
Rossville Gothic - a custom order
for a client's parents
Now, Mary confesses, she’s winding down her enterprise, though orders from regulars continue to keep her busy. She also continues to be one amazing lady.  More than a grammar girl, her ideas and encouragement have enhanced my stories immeasurably. Her knowledge and memories added a whole chapter and a book cover to my sci-fi, The Hundredth Spring, which is rooted in nearby Medaryville, Indiana. (I do hope that work gets Out There sometime…)

  Text tech, artist, friend - this brief blog entry doesn’t begin to do her justice.

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