So here’s how I came to have a name–and a picture. Early this year, LW attended an Outsider Artists fair. Barely in the door, she was drawn to a book called Family Found: The Lifetime Obsession of Morton Bartlett, edited by Marion Harris. Bartlett, orphaned as a boy, became a solitary, obsessive man with an unusual hobby. He sculpted a series of very life-like dolls (mostly in the 8-16 age range), hand-sewed and knitted their clothing, and then photographed them in various naturalistic poses. The dolls were found after his death, carefully wrapped in newspaper within custom-made boxes, which I find a little spooky, but, OK.
Later, on the other side of the room, LW came across Marion Harris’s own booth where a limited number of prints developed from Bartlett’s original negatives were being sold. LW was intrigued by his photograph of an adolescent girl-doll lounging in an armchair, seemingly absorbed in a book. (A photo taken from another angle revealed the book, to my disappointment, to be Reader’s Digest.) A close-up of this same doll’s face is featured on the cover of Family Found. Later, defending why she blew her vacation cash on a photograph of a doll, LW said it reminded her of the Presiding Spirit of her library. OK, she didn’t exactly say that in so many words, but I knew she had me in mind. I’m perpetually young and curious and into books, too, even if I’ve been around for, well, as long as she has.
Some of the essays in Family Found suggest the dolls served as a surrogate family for Bartlett. Art critic Bill Hopkins surmises that Bartlett may have even given the dolls names and personalities. Upon reading this, LW decided that the doll in the photo, the doll who embodies the essence of bookish me, needed her own name, a name I could share. And so we became Willa. True, I didn’t get to be The National Library of Estonia, but at least I’m not a Morty or a Bart.