NIADA members are holding Ella Hass in their hearts and memories. Ella passed away on January 11, 2006 after a yearlong battle with cancer. Her gentle, quiet presence will be missed in the world of doll art. Her work remains to remind us of her lovely spirit.
Ella lived in Denmark, where she raised her four children and recently married her longtime companion, Ole. She would have turned 63 in April.
Ella’s early dolls were cloth. Elisabeth Flueler-Tomamichel remembers, “I saw her dolls for the first time in a show in Munich in 1985. They were fully made of stuffed fabric, rather soft and they looked to me like playdolls. But her faces had a lovely expression already.” Her work evolved into figures that were like three-dimensional oil paintings. Her dollswere usually 24 to 27 inches tall, and had bodies made of cloth over a wire armature withcomposition hands and feet. The bodies were weighted to give the feel of a real child. Theheads were sculpted, molded and cast in a plaster-like material, then covered with wax and a cloth mask. The mask was then primed and meticulously painted in oils. The eyes were especially beautiful and held great expression. Her dolls, mostly young children had a lovely quiet dignity and an underlying playfulness, reflecting the personality of their maker. Marlaine Verhelst shares this memory, “I knew Ella for many many years. We both used to do the Frankfurt (Germany) Doll Art Show. The first time I saw her I thought ‘what a beautiful woman she is’. It took a few years before she started talking and then I was surprised how nice she was. We entered NIADA together and one night the two of us went out for dinner. She proposed to speak our own languages (hers Danish, mine Dutch) because she was convinced that we would be able to understand each other. It was very tiring but great fun and after a while we went “back to normal”, to English. She was a beautiful woman in many ways.”
Ella’s work was widely appreciated. She won the”Max-Oscar-Arnold” award for Doll Art twice, in 1995 and 97 in the category, “dolls representing children”. The competition is held in Neustadt bei Coburg in Germany during the “Dolls Festival”, and winners are chosen by an independent judge. These are the only awards given for doll art by a non commercial institution in Europe. Her work was sought out by many collectors. Elisabeth says, “Her dolls have always been very costly but she sold them easily.”
Ella’s friend and dealer, Susan Anderson wanted to share her thoughts and feelings. She says, “Ella was truly an inspirational person. She had a very fulfilling life that was sadly cut short. Ella enjoyed life tremendously. She enjoyed the simple things in life. She loved sculpting beautiful children and was a perfectionist at it. She enjoyed her walks with her dog. She had a wonderful sense of humor. She also liked to tell it like it is.”
Ella wrote about herself, “growing up as a young girl in Denmark in the 50’s, I was very enthusiastic about becoming a nurse, but had toabandon the idea due to various soap allergies. I then completed a teaching degree. In the mid 70’s, I started collecting antique dolls and gradually developed a keen interest in creating my very own doll design. I also had the good fortune of being able to purchase a Kathe Kruse doll. Her technique had a tremendous appeal to me and it was a great inspiration in the early developments of my own line of dolls.”
“My dolls have become three-dimensional oil portraits of actual human beings. In every new mold I strive to give the dolls a certain expression and unique personality. Finally, all of my dolls are dressed in personally designed outfits.”
Just as Ella was inspired by dollmakers that came before her, she in turn inspired others. Forrest Rogers says, sadly, I never met Ella. But I can say that when I first discovered the ‘art doll’ world, the gentle, subtle classically painted faces she created were amongst the first to draw me toward the venue,and bridge the link between ‘fine art’ as I knew it, and the art of the doll.”
Astry Campbell says, “I was probably one of the first artists to know gentle Ella Haas because we lived in Germany from 1980 to 1988. She entered one of her inimitable baby dolls in the Frankfurt Competition sponsored by Matthias Wanke at that time. Naturally, since I was a judge I awarded a first place ribbon to her and got to know her over the years as she attended the GDS conventions in several other European cities. Ella was a kind, loving and gentle person, and persisted in working in a very difficult medium…and perfecting it to the highest degree. Her love for children, and for all people showed through in her work. I am fortunate to have known her, and we are blessed to have her work.”
“I have lost a very dear friend,” confides Susan, “the world is indeed smaller without her in it.”