Susanna Oroyan began making dolls seriously in 1972 and was elected to NIADA in 1982. She was proficient in a variety of media, including polymer clay, paperclay, and cloth. Her dollmaking style was never static but evolved constantly. In addition to dollmaking, Susanna taught extensively all over the US and in Australia, self-published booklets and designed cloth doll patterns sold through her Fabricat Designs company, participated actively in local and regional UFDC activities and conventions and in local doll clubs in Oregon.
In the 1980s there was very little information on artist dolls; Susanna saw the need and filled it. She was by far the biggest contributor of articles both for and about doll artists and doll art for many years. Doll Reader made Susanna a regular columnist, and it was through her column and other articles that many doll artists learned about NIADA. Later she was a contributor to other doll magazines, and by the mid-1990s there was probably not a doll publication that had not printed one or more of her articles. In something over twenty years, Susanna published over 300 articles. Because of her high visibility, Susanna was contacted by hundreds of aspiring doll artists with questions on everything from materials and methods to business and legal practices. She spent countless hours answering their letters, taking their phone calls, looking at pictures of their work, and mentoring many of them.
She saw the need for a good-quality artist doll book and in 1986 Hobby House Press published Contemporary Artist Dolls: A Collector’s Guide, co-written with Carol-Lynn Rossel Waugh. Other than the two black & white American Doll Artist books by Helen Bullard [founder of NIADA], this may have been the only US book on artist dolls by a variety of artists for some years, and the first large-format book. How-to dollmaking books had been in short supply, but a few artists began to publish books on doll-making from the mid-1980s on, most of which were specific to their particular media. Seeing the need for a comprehensive dollmaking book that gave guidance in a variety of methods but promoted no one technique, Susanna published the first of 4 very successful how-to books, Fantastic Figures, in 1994. This was followed by Anatomy of a Doll in 1997, Designing the Doll in 1999 and Finishing the Figure in 2001. These books are the most widely-read and most sold dollmaking books, with Anatomy of a Doll having sold over 40,000 copies as of 1993 – something of a phenomenon in a market where 2,000-4,000 books sold is considered very good. Her final book, on one of her favorite subjects, written during her illness, was Dolls of the Art Deco Era: 1910-1940.
As well as providing most of the media publicity and information about NIADA in the 1980s, Susanna contributed to the organization in many ways for many years. Most notably she served as President from 1987-1991, but she always said “yes” when asked to do something for the organization. She gave countless conference programs, served on the By-laws Committee for several years, and co-coordinated the Critiques for three years and helped implement some changes that remain a part of the critique today. She instituted the original artist demonstrations at conferences in the late ‘80s and co-coordinated them several years when they were revived in this decade. Susanna probably contributed as much time to NIADA as any other member over the years, and much more than most. She provided wise and experienced guidance, had a good head for business, and was unafraid to handle things that needed to be deal with. During her illness, Susanna continued to contribute – doing programs, negotiating with hotels, rewriting by-laws.
NIADA members and conference attendees prior to the beginning of her illness in 2001 knew her as fun and funny, with a dry sense of humor and great energy. Although she attended conferences in ’02, ’03, and ’04, her health kept her at a lower key, and she is known to more recent members and attendees primarily from her books. But Susanna Oroyan was a major force in the doll world for many years – as a doll artist, as a writer and promoter of art dolls, as a teacher and mentor, as a major contributor to NIADA in many ways, and as a wonderful friend to many.
Internationally Known Local Author and Artist dies: August 22, 2007
Susanna Oroyan was born May 24, 1942 in Portland, Oregon daughter of Louis Benjamin Scruggs and Marjorie Eunice Hibbert Scruggs. She attended Brooklyn elementary school there and Keizer Elementary School in Salem, Oregon. She graduated from North Salem High School in 1960 and went on to attend both the University of Oregon and California State University at Sacramento. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree and completed a 5th year in education in California and a Master of Arts in English from the University of Oregon in 1971. She was accepted to the Phd. Program in English in 1978 at the University of Oregon and worked on rhetorical theory under the direction of Dr. Albert Kitzhaber until his retirement in 1981. She married Thomas Oroyan of Waimanalo, Oahu, Hawaii in 1962. Her death was due to a seven year battle with colo-rectal cancer in her spine.
“I never had a real job unless you count being the world’s longest term temporary part-time secretary when I worked eight years for my husband’s architectural firm. After school, I fell head over heels into making figure sculpture. This is the construction of evocative or provocative representation of the human figure. They are multi-media constructs showing the human condition from realistic to abstract often seen in museums and galleries. One of my first pieces, a soft sculpture character, won first place in the sculpture division of the All Oregon Art Sow in 1975. By 1980, I had begun to sculpt with oven curing clays and I was honored to be elected an artist member of the National Institute of American Doll Artists in 1982.”
As a member of NIADA, Oroyan served on the Board and as President of the organization from 1985 to 1992 and remained an active committee member until 2004.
“Throughout my doll making years, I wrote to promote the art and the artist’s.” Over the years, Oroyan produced over 300 articles for various journals and was a contracted as a consultant to Hobby House Press from 1987 until its sale in 1994. After leaving office work in 1988, with her husband’s illustrations, she founded a line of teaching patterns and booklets under the name of Fabricat design.
One thing led to another and she was soon “on the road” teaching sculpture to various art and doll groups in places as far away as Australia and she taught on the regular rotation of the Annual American Quilt Festival in Houston during the 1990s. In 1992, one of her Fabricat publications brought her to the attention of C&T publishing. With them, again with her husband’s illustrations, she wrote and published a series of seminal books on the techniques and design of figure sculpture: Fantastic Figures, 1994; Anatomy of the Doll, 1997; Designing the Doll, 1999; Finishing the Figure, 2001; and Art Deco Dolls in 2004. Anatomy of the Doll was honored by Scientific American magazine as Best Technical book for Youth in 1997. Oroyan also received the award for Best Dollmaker of the year for teaching and publication from the National Association of Cloth Doll Makers in 1995.
Oroyan’s art—close to 500 pieces in collections around the world, including the Musee des Jouets at the Louvre in Paris- was noted for whimsy and the avant-garde in figures. She is probably most known for her 60 piece one-of-a-kind Mulliner Family series and, in later years, for the Empresses of the Universe series. “It was always the challenge of getting the idea engineered into a three dimensional reality. How does an Empress of the Universe get around? With built in sails, some on abstract wind-sail contraptions, and one with a pogo stick.” The Mulliner English eccentric figures were fun for all. I made up an elaborate family tree and a basic story for each one. Owners became members of the Mulliner Family Conservancy. Throughout history, it seems Mulliners were very acquisitive so their owner/conservators often collect items and make settings to show off their possessions.”
Locally, Oroyan worked with Kathy Jensen, curator of the Springfield Museum to mount highly attended exhibits of figurative art from as many as 150 internationally known artists in 1991 and 1994. In 2001 over 80 pieces of her own work was featured there in as the main gallery retrospective. She also was a founder of the annual Doll and Toy Festival held at the Fairgrounds every fall and co-chaired it for ten years of its 20 year history. Oroyan was also a charter member of the Eugene Doll Club in 1971 and Pacific NW Paper Doll Collectors and helped found the Doll and Toy Craftsmen and the Stitchin’ Time Cloth doll clubs in the area. As an active member, she chaired the United Federation of Doll Clubs’ 1985 Regional Conference, noted for taking its 500 attendees to a performance of the Eugene Ballet. During the same year she completed her first book, Contemporary Artist Dolls published in 1986, co-authored with Carol-Lynn Rossel Waugh, and edited the conference limited edition journal, “44 Famous Paper Doll Artists.” Again, for the 1994 Conference, she wrote and produced a book on Art Deco dolls and their stories as its limited edition journal.
During the years of her illness and treatment she continued to be active, completing the book Finishing the Figure and Dolls of the Art Deco Era as well as occasional contributions of articles to various doll making journals. In 2003, she was named consulting editor for Art Doll Quarterly, a publication of Stampington Press. “I am never going to say “retired,” but, even though I never thought of myself as a collector, I find I have numbers of older dolls. They always need new clothes or at the very least new display formats so I always have several working messes which seem to evolve into topics for more articles.”
“It has been a wonderful, fascinating and busy life, but I could never have done it without the support of my family and friends. My mother, who did not expect to have to re-mother at an age when she should have been smelling the roses and especially, my husband, Tom have worked over and beyond. In addition to being my teacher, critic, and translator of ideas into illustrations, in recent years, he has taken on domestic chores and nursing—often getting up three times in a work night to help me be comfortable—putting his own physical condition at risk of deterioration. There are simply no words that can express my love for him. Some people are lucky in love and I was especially blessed.”
Susanna is survived by her husband Thomas Oroyan, her mother Eunice Scruggs of Eugene, brother David Scruggs of Portland, son Martin and grandchildren Ruby and Tycho Benjamin Oroyan of London, England, cousins in the Eugene-Springfield area, Portland and Seattle, and by marriage “Auntie Susie” to 35 nieces and nephews, their children, and grand-children in Hawaii.
A Personal Tribute…
I don’t want a world without Susanna in it, & therefore, I am going to always remember her wit & mischievous charm, her outrageous originality, her incredible loyalty, her sterling-silver-love of family, friends & furries, her boundless energy towards any project she was working on or with, her razor-sharp intellect, her organizational abilities, whether for her husband’s business or running a NIADA Conference, her love of gossip, her interest in ballet & musical theater, her love of exploring the world, & her abject fearlessness.
I’ll remember she loves music but can’t carry a tune. I’ll remember all the times I came to her with problems professional & private, & she listened & lots of times, provided a solution.
I’ll remember that mega-watt smile & the way she pulled little pieces off her bread rolls before she ate them. I’ll remember all that crazy coffee-drinking & smoking, until our room was blue—I had to quit rooming with her at Conferences because I couldn’t take the smoke.
I’ll remember talking way late into the night, until all I could manage would be, “ummm”—for all I know she talked all the rest of the night, because she was darned hard to wake up the next morning for NIADA functions.
I’ll remember her profound fidelity to the Democratic Party & that book she was going to write: “The Oroyan Explanation of All Things”. I won’t forget the faithfulness of her friendship, through good times & bad, & the way she could argue her positions, sometimes with page after page of coherent thought until I had to say, “You’re probably right but I still think what I think.” & she never held a grudge about it.
I’ll remember all the time & interest she spent on cataloguing her ancestors, & that twinkling satisfaction she radiated when she’d slipped a bid in at the last second on an eBay auction & won some small antique bisque doll.
I’ll remember the fun she had making costumes & concocting intricate histories for her own creations, & for her collected dolls, too. And those extraordinary, unique Christmas presents–we both love reading mysteries & one year she made for me a red velvet-covered, “blood-stained” box with the “personal business cards” of 48 fictional Detectives, each with appropriate type-face & decoration, according to era & location.
I’ll remember looking forward every morning since 2000 when I got my first computer, (until she became too ill to write), to seeing her email to me, since she seemed to stay up all night & write emails in the small hours.
It’s good to remember her nurturing of other artists, & the way she would always have time to answer, give opinions & critiques & advice, to the numberless artists & would-be artists who wrote & called her. I know she was still doing this nurturing deep into her illness, long after anybody else would’ve stopped that altogether.
I’ll remember all the endless hours of work she gave to NIADA & to her Eugene Doll Clubs. Then there are all her books, & articles & teaching-events, but I won’t be thinking much about that professional Susanna Oroyan; I’ll be missing & remembering a dear personal friend of over 28 years’ time, whose loss leaves a gigantic hole in my life & who can never be replaced.
Susanna added so much color & sparkle to my world—I am so lucky to have known her & to have been her friend.