Mirren Barrie was a creator of fine fabric dolls. She was elected as a NIADA artist member in 1970 and, as the first International artist, was an active member for thirty- five years. She served as President of NIADA from 1986-1988 and as it’s Treasurer for 25 years and Historian for a long period. She passed away in her sleep in Waterbury Center, Vermont on June 20, 2004.
Mirren was born in the ancient royal burgh of Ruthenglen, Scotland. From an early age she studied art, fashion and fine embroidery needlework. Many years of research at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, Scotland enabled her to create authentic Scottish women in occupational costumes for the Scottish Craft Center. Given the opportunity to submit a doll for a British Craft Exhibition at Olympia in London she chose to create “Rob Roy MacGregor”, a Scottish Robin Hood of the 18th Century. She wove Rob Roy’s tartan to scale and her husband Tod crafted his sword and shield in sterling silver. She was quite pleased when her Rob Roy was chosen to be one 200 items displayed out of some twenty thousand submitted, and was the only doll to make his bow before royalty.
Mirren continued to create ethnic and royal dolls based on meticulous research. They are constructed on a felt-covered metal armature which is pliable enough to be naturally positioned and free standing. The torsos and heads on the 12” dolls are formed with a series of methods using cotton, muslin and glue. The laminated materials are formed over a low fire clay sculpture. The doll is then painted with acrylic paint, given a fine hair arrangement and dressed to perfection.
She and her two daughters reluctantly left Scotland and came to America when her husband was transferred to Detroit, Michigan. In 1973, the Barrie’s retired to a cottage overlooking a wooded Vermont valley where they busily began creating dolls. In 1987 Mirren created NIADA’s 25th Anniversary Banquet souvenir doll. She was a delightful 12 inch Fashion Doll from the 1830’s named Diana and there were 200 produced, all hand sewn and dressed in NIADA’s colors of red and black. A wonderful certificate for the doll can be found in a small pocket under the skirt.
During the 1990’s Mirren spent her time perfecting her art in 3 dimensional paper and created many needle art embroidery pieces for Needlecraft exhibitions. I first met Mirren in 1970 at the NIADA conference in Detroit, Michigan and found her to be fascinating to listen to with her light-hearted Scottish brogue. Her sharing of her knowledge of history, fashion and fabrics was the highlight of many conferences for me. She had a dynamic personality and I will miss her.
An admiring friend,
Diana Lence Crosby, NIADA artist 1968
Mirren’s early dolls and dioramas have been displayed at the Children’s Museum in Detroit, Michigan and recent work from 1993 in the Museum of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America, Louisville, Kentucky.