Alley of the dolls

Hilary Williams

Hilary Williams started making dolls when she was living in Iowa and feeling lonely.

Hilary Williams started making dolls when she was living in Iowa and feeling lonely.

Photo By Cherie Louise

For more information, or to purchase Hilary Williams’ dolls or other artwork, call (530) 525-6842 or e-mail

Enter the living room of artist Hilary Williams, and you are immediately surrounded by a world of chaotically colorful stuffed beings, each one a patchwork of wildly juxtaposing fabrics and patterns. There are about 50 of them, and they are everywhere—on the couch, along the windowsill, sitting in chairs, on the floor. Some have faces. Some don’t. Some have arms. Others are all torso, head and legs. One has a ladybug embroidered on the side of its head. Another has a collar made of pink lace.

Most of them would best be described as dolls, but there is also a chicken, monkey, puppet and more. Sizes range from that of the common teddy bear to larger-than-human proportions (the laps of which are just large enough for most adults to snuggle up into). Each one of them lovingly sewn (and named) by Williams, they lie, waiting to make you smile or, more realistically, laugh out loud.

This is Williams’ world. Or rather, the world as she sees it. And once you step in, it’s a world you want to join.

Like so many things that look easy or whimsical, these dolls are preceded by long, hard work, talent and discipline. An Oakland, Calif., native, Williams, 24, has always been an artist. Since childhood, she has drawn and painted. At her private Catholic (but very progressive) high school in San Francisco, where art classes were only offered after school and during lunch, Williams dutifully showed up to study and get critiqued.

“I was the token high school artist,” she said.

After graduation, Williams’ studies took her first to the prestigious Chicago Art Institute, where she studied for a year but didn’t find her niche, and then to California College of Arts & Crafts in Oakland, from which she graduated in 2002.

At CCAC, Williams recalled, “I started out doing painting and drawing, and then I found myself wanting to take all printmaking classes. I think I just liked the process of it. I could spend sometimes 18 to 20 hours in the studio because it’s a mixture of process and creativity so you’re not being pressured to create the whole time.”

Though Williams learned how to work in all forms of printmaking, she says, “I really got stoked on screenprinting. I’m really into color and layering of images and also using photographs because I really like to take pictures.”

Williams’ work is highly influenced by where she resides. She has, since graduation, lived in Portland, small-town Iowa, New York City and now Tahoe’s west shore. Each place has left its mark on her art. The paintings from New York are moody and dark, the drawings from Portland more simple and colorful. And then, the dolls.

“I started the dolls about a year ago,” Williams says. “I didn’t have a lot of friends in Iowa. I was just really excited about making these dolls, and I think it had something to do with my loneliness. I wanted to live in this play-world, and these would be my friends.”

Williams has continued to create an entire community of fluffy companions. The dolls possess the same abstract sense of design, color combination and composition that informs her paintings and prints. Also, like her more formal creations, doll details are each meticulously, if not randomly, cut and sewn into place.

The dolls are the current stop on the creative train of Williams’ life. From here, she plans to move less and eventually go to graduate school in art with the intention of being an instructor. And of course, she will always be an artist. It’s what she does.