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Family Influences Farmington Hills Artist

For artist Michele Sapp, dolls reflect heritage, beauty, and connection to late grandmothers.

In 2002, Michele Sapp sat down in her Farmington Hills home and created a doll.

"I literally sat down and made it, but I had never done that before," Sapp said. "I don't know why I decided to do it. My mother says I didn't even play with dolls that much as a kid."

After she finished that first doll, it reminded her immediately of her maternal grandmother, Annie, who had passed away several months earlier.

"I said (to it), 'You're Annie's girl.' It just felt right," said Sapp, who now operates her business, Annie's Girls, featuring her signature art dolls and handcrafted jewelry.

Within three weeks of making the initial doll, Sapp made 49 more and brought them to Henry Ford Medical Center in Detroit, where she was invited to participate in an art show. She sold all but five of the 50, and she has been making dolls ever since.

No two Annie's Girls creations are alike. The dolls reflect Sapp's rich African and Native American heritage, with vibrant fabrics and head scarves, and detailed accessories. Sapp paints, dyes, or tea stains fabrics to achieve new looks. 

"When I was growing up, there were very few black dolls, and the ones that were out there were ugly," Sapp said. "As a black woman, I enjoy seeing dolls that celebrate the beauty of the African-American person."

Sapp's dolls have no faces – she doesn't want people to be distracted by a doll's eye color or other facial features.

"I think that so often we make a judgment about a person based on appearances, versus seeing the inner beauty," she said. "Many people have told me they didn't even notice there wasn't a face at first, because each doll has such a distinct personality without it."

Thanks to her grandmother's influence, for the dolls' bodies, she uses recycled bottles, as well as other found materials. 

"My grandmother loved going to second-hand stores," Sapp said. "She'd buy an old table and transform it into something beautiful. She was ahead of her time when it came to repurposing things."

Her paternal grandmother, a fine artist who worked in clay, watercolors and metal smithing, also influenced her. As a child, Sapp spent time with her at her easel and also gained from her an appreciation of nature.

Sapp's work has been featured at juried fine art fairs around Michigan, and her dolls are currently being sold at the Art-Is-In Market North in Twelve Oaks Mall, at a gallery in Charleston, South Carolina, and in the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum Shop.

"This wasn't my goal or my plan – it was truly God's plan – but it has been wonderful," said Sapp. "I'm still in awe. I never would've imagined I'd have work at the DIA. It has been a gift."

In September, Sapp will participate in the Funky Ferndale Art Fair, and the Birmingham Street Art Fair.  She can be reached by email at sappm31@yahoo.com

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