It was a Facebook photo of an old doll captioned with “The Creepy Baby” that first inspired Kristina Thorstenson to collect vintage dolls for a class assignment. Now, her photographs and doll pieces have made their way onto the walls at An Beal Bocht Café.
The Lehman College student and Riverdale resident was immediately intrigued by what her friend posted two years ago. After trips to various antique shops and flea markets, she quickly collected composition dolls — manufactured between the 1890s and 1930s and made from glue, sawdust and plaster — to photograph.
Since then, her collection has grown and lives at her Yonkers studio, where she works on staging scenes with each doll in her collection.
“There’s now about 150 (dolls) at the studio,” she said. “It’s been an ever-evolving project.”
With Halloween quickly approaching, Thorstenson thought it was a great opportunity to share her work, The Creepy Baby Project, at the 445 W. 238th St. bar and grill throughout October. The exhibit includes not only photographs of the dolls, but some of the dolls themselves from Thorstenson’s collection are on display for customers to take a closer look.
“I just thought that doing those pieces would give people a better idea of the dolls themselves because not a lot of people know about them,” she said. “Most people hear about dolls and they think about the typical, modern hard plastic Cabbage Patch doll kind of thing.
“So I just thought it would bring things together and give people a chance to see them in their natural state, too, outside of the photographs.”
Each doll has a life of its own, some so old Thorstenson said even breathing on them could cause them to fall apart. But to her, they’re more than just relics of the past.
“They’ve aged and they kind of have a story to tell, and it’s up to you to decide what their story is,” Thorstenson said.
And while some might argue the nature of Thorstenson’s project can be construed as something morbid, she disagrees.
“It’s not like a dismemberment thing,” Thorstenson said. “It’s just kind of showing things break down, but they’re still beautiful. Things can fall apart, and it’s still beautiful. I feel like they’re still beautiful even though (they’re) cracking and falling apart.”
Exploring topics that are seen as creepy isn’t a new photographic venture for Thorstenson. She had another exhibit at An Beal in 2013 that took a look at cemeteries and abandoned locations.
But she’s not opposed to working on happier, brighter exhibits like flower motifs either.
“It’s not that I dislike doing them,” Thorstenson said. “I’m just drawn more to this type of darker imagery than the nice, pretty stuff.”
When it comes to The Creepy Baby Project, Thorstenson said she’s received positive reactions from others, even when she anonymously stops by An Beal to hear what people have to say.
“I’ve sat in a couple of times without really saying much,” Thorstenson said. “And I’ve heard people commenting like, ‘Yeah, it’s really creepy, it’s really weird, but they’re cool.’ That is what I’ve heard a lot of.”
Throstenson’s daughters and even one of the children she works with at a nursery school are unfazed by her work. She recalled that a boy from her job walked into An Beal with his mother one day to see her work and didn’t have the reaction she thought he would.
“He came in the next day and said, ‘Kristina, thank you for hanging up the Halloween decorations,’” Thorstenson said.
Thorstenson will continue to expand The Creepy Baby Project after the exhibition is over by experimenting with stop-motion animation.
For now, though, she’ll keep working on the project with no direct mission, just enjoying the project for what it is to her — fun.
“I’m one of those people where I don’t necessarily have a message with what I do,” Thorstenson said. “It’s just not who I am. Why can’t it just be nice? Why can’t you just enjoy what you’re doing and what you’re producing and you want to share it?”