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05 July 2012

Sasha Festival History

In my third post about this year's Sasha Festival, I mentioned that Ann Chandler spoke about the history of Sasha Festivals as part of Friday's post-dinner program. Many months ago I'd asked Ann if she would be willing to be a guest blogger, and she readily agreed. I then dropped the ball by not following up with topic ideas, and here was the perfect topic - one that Ann knows so much about, since she planned and hosted the early Sasha Festivals. I asked her if she would be willing to share her commentary on my blog, and she graciously agreed. Here is the text of her talk from that evening, along with a couple of pictures that she sent me from the 3rd Sasha Festival in 1985. Thank you Ann!

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Sasha Festival Talk 2012
My name is Ann Chandler, and I am the founder of the annual event known as the Sasha Festival. I am absolutely thrilled to be here and to see all of you.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, in 1982, in a land far away known as America, I was married to Les Barden and known to everyone as Ann Barden. I lived in a time before computers, email, or blogs. I decided to publish a newsletter, called Sasha Doll Collectors Club Newsletter, for Sasha lovers like me who lived far from other collectors. The first issue was published in February 1982.
Meeting in person was impossible because of the distance between us, so it was decided to have a club by mail, in the form of a newsletter, where people could learn about the history of Sasha dolls, and sell used Sasha dolls, or clothing people made to fit Sasha. All things then were slow, and distances were greater than today. Long distance phone calls on land lines were expensive, and there were no cells phones.
Finding facts about dolls was not easy, and people in those days relied on magazines for information, because there was no Internet or even Wikipedia. My first ad to find subscribers was in Doll Castle News, a small doll magazine with inexpensive advertising rates. In that first ad, I offered four issues a year for $10. 25 subscriptions came in through that first ad, and it was followed by an ad in Doll Reader Magazine, which had a much wider circulation. By September, the newsletter’s third issue, there were 75 subscribers, and was gaining popularity with each issue.
It was a joy to correspond with Sasha collectors. Letters came to our farmhouse by Snail Mail, in a truck driven by a man who put messages in my virtual mailbox. They came from all over the world! Erica McLeod, in New Zealand, Betty Warburton, in England, and Laura Knusli, from Switzerland, were early subscribers. Subscriptions also came in from all over the United States, Texas, Florida, Ohio, California, and many other states. Some people knew me through my time at Marcy Street Doll Company, and word spread by word of mouth.
Most of the writing was mine. It was necessary to hand-draw all the illustrations in pen and ink because offset printing was very expensive, and at that time copy machines could not reproduce photographs. No one had digital cameras, and home copy machines or printers were unheard of. People were glad to receive the Sasha Newsletter, but they seldom contributed material, no matter how much I begged. Gradually, we began to pool our knowledge.
After only four issues of the Newsletter, and a year of corresponding with Sasha collectors, I began to want to meet some of these people in person. 1983 marked the 90th anniversary of Sasha Morgenthaler’s birth. What a good time to have a party, a celebration, a festival! I envisioned balloons, flowers, sales booths, food and fun.
Traveling to New York City, I attended the 1983 Toy Fair trade show, telling the gate-keepers that I was a retailer. In fact, my shop in my home was so small, and earned so little, it was more hobby than business. I had business cards printed. Fran Barrett, a subscriber who lived in Manhattan, agreed to let me sleep on her sofa for three or four nights to save hotel bills. Though we had only exchanged letters before then, we bonded instantly and became good friends. Her daughter Emily became the subject of my Sasha-size book, The Dolls in 12-E. I got Fran into the Toy Fair as my Sales Manager, another bending of the truth. I would do anything to get through those doors and be able to meet with the people at International Playthings, Sasha’s importers. Imagine our surprise when we found Sara and John Doggart, owners of Trendon Ltd. and manufacturers of Sasha dolls, sitting in the booth!
We made an appointment for the next day to sit down with the Doggarts and talk. They were excited when I ran my idea for a Sasha Festival by them. They told about Sasha Morgenthaler’s 80th birthday party, held at her atelier, I believe. Friends and family all brought gifts for Sasha, and soon they overflowed the tiny house. People lined them up outside, at the edges of her curved driveway and they soon went clear to the street. I had not yet visited Sasha’s Atelier, or work studio, when I was told this story, but several years later, when I did visit, I could visualize the happy birthday party, with the gifts spilling out the front door and down the driveway. I wanted the Festival to have that sort of celebratory atmosphere. I envisioned balloons, sales booths, music, and good food; like a country fair, perhaps.
I advertised the first Sasha Festival in the April 1983 Newsletter and 25 people from many parts of the United States showed up at our New Hampshire farmhouse in early October, 1983, for the first Festival. Sasha’s birthday comes at the end of November, which is an inconvenient time for people to travel or add anything to their social calendar, so we had it in October, as close as we could get.
We had a great time. There was a Dress-a-Sasha contest, which became one of the events repeated each year. I was flabbergasted by the wonderful quality of the sewing I saw in that first contest, and continue to see each year. We also had a sales room, and I was amazed to learn that all the dealers did well, in spite of the small crowd. There were about ten dealers, and only twenty-five attendees!
Our speaker that day was Yvonne French, owner of the New York shop Dollandreams. She had grown up in Switzerland; a neighbor of Sasha Morgenthaler’s and had one of her original studio dolls. She brought her doll with her and let us all hold her, much to our delight. We also had a slide show of photographs taken at the Puppenmuseum Sasha Morgenthaler in Zurich. The pictures were taken with an inexpensive camera in poor lighting, so they were not very good, but we were so eager to see Sasha’s original work, about which we knew nothing, we showed the program twice.
By the end of that day it was obvious that there would be another Sasha Festival. I had thought this would be the only one, but people had many ideas about other speakers and programs, and they wanted to meet again.
The second Festival was held at Pier II, a popular restaurant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, right on the harbor. All day we watched boats go by under our windows. Beau James, Vice President in charge of Sales at International Playthings, importers of Sasha dolls for the United States, was our speaker. He had unique inside stories to tell about the development of the doll which kept everyone hanging on each word.
Our Festival theme was “Emphasis on Götz.” Sara Doggart sent a lovely Götz boy in the Schoolboy outfit. When Trendon went out of business, Sara gifted me this doll, for my efforts with Sasha. He also came with the original padded envelope, addressed to Sara Doggart. The return address was Ruth Morgenthaler, indicating that the doll had originally belonged to her, or perhaps to her husband, Fritz Morgenthaler, Sasha’s older son, who was Ruth’s husband. I have saved the envelope as part of his provenance.
Again, people attending had more ideas for the third Festival. They wanted the next one to be a two-day event, and so it came to be a weekend, rather than a day event.
Third Sasha Festival at Barden Farm (courtesy of Ann Chandler)
The third year, back at the Barden Farm, under a huge tent this time, we had our third Festival. Our speaker that year was my friend Carol-Lynn Rössel Waugh, who is a doll collector, teddy bear artist, professional writer and photographer, among other talents. She spoke about the difficulties of successfully turning a handmade doll into a manufactured one, while retaining the artist’s intent, which Sasha did more successfully than most. Carol-Lynn wrote an article about our event and it made the cover of Dolls, the magazine for collectors. This helped greatly in publicizing the newsletter and promoting Sasha Dolls.
Festival Hayride - 1985 (courtesy of Ann Chandler)
The fourth Festival was run by other people, and I became an attendee, but usually it is my pleasure to have a part in the Festivities, as this year.
It is important for everyone to know, Sasha Festivals are put together totally with volunteer help. Hosts, who give up about two years of their lives to put on a Festival such as this, speakers, exhibiters, those who make the Festival souvenir outfits and write the journal, all do so without pay. The participation of those who attend cannot be underestimated. This is almost unheard of in the doll world, where so much is commercially driven.
In 1991 we began the Children’s Fund Auction which has given well over $200,000 to children’s charities world-wide through Save the Children, UNICEF and other organizations. This makes all of us very proud! It is also part of the Magic of Sasha.
These days, we have moved into the twenty-first century and in addition to the Sasha Festival and the books available, there are web sites, blogs, Internet chat sites and on-line sales sites; things we could not imagine 30 years ago. The Internet has changed everything for the better. We jet across the Atlantic to attend Sasha Festivals in Five Star hotels, and have around 100 attendees each year. There are more people who would like to attend, but we keep it at that number to retain the intimacy so important to our enjoyment.
When the Sasha Festival began to morph into what it is today, some people missed the informality of the early Festivals. It was impossible to keep the Festivals from growing and changing, so events such as Sasha Fun Days popped up. These are usually single day events, very informal, with no more than 40 people. Dawn Law’s Tea Party, to be held after this festival, might be called a Fun Day. They do not take the place of Festivals, but rather augment them.
In closing, I would especially like to thank is Dorisanne Osborn, who picked up the newsletter when I stopped publishing in 1989 and so ably kept people in touch and informed through her Friends of Sasha newsletter for 17 long years. Today there are many newsletters in both England and America to delight collectors. You can find more information on Susanna Lewis’s website, www.sashadoll.com. Her website is a clearing house with connections to all events, publications, Sasha websites, and she always has dolls and other items for sale. It is the place to learn about new books coming out.
Let me once again welcome each of you to the Sasha Festival 2012. Have a wonderful time this weekend. We hope to see you in the USA, in 2013.
 7/6/12 UPDATED: Changed year of first Children's Fund Auction from 1993 to 1991, as I was informed that it began at the festival in Keuka Park that year.

1 comment:

Kendal said...

A very interesting account of how these two wonderful Sasha occasions began. I have been lucky enough to go to a fair number of Sasha Fun Days and this year finally made my first Festival. I thoroughly enjoy being amongst our Sasha community meeting new like minded people, seeing other's dolls, exchanging thoughts, ideas and views, not to mention 'wish lists.' Long may they continue for the enjoyment of those who are able to attend.
My thanks to you both for this 'newly attained by me' knowledge. Sasha love from Kendal.