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Artist Spotlight: Chris McKinley-Dahl

Who would think to use the buttonhole area of a brocade vest as the eyes of a soft sculpture owl? Chris McKinley-Dahl of Dahl Creations, that’s who. Chris is a mixed-media, self-taught artist whose work is new to our gallery. She lives in Holland and spends winters in Arizona.

Chris had collected soft sculptures, so upon retirement in 2008, she bought a pattern to find out how to make one. She made that pattern once, then discarded it. Her imagination now guides her pattern making, fabric choices and needle sculpting.

Chris states she’s not an expert on the sewing machine, but is “pretty good with hand stitching, and that’s a majority of what brings my work to life.” To make her whimsical soft sculptures, she machine stitches the pattern pieces, then cuts them out. Using a chopstick, she turns pieces right side out, then starts to stuff. When stuffed, her “story pieces” are strengthened with wooden dowels inserted into the legs and torso. A gymnast “way back when,” Chris knows a lot about “how good shapes should look.”

Faces, she believes, are the most important conveyances of emotion. Most are needle-sculpted; some are baked Sculpey (clay), colored with makeup.

Chris trolls fabric and thrift shops for eye-catching materials, and uses found items—including copper tubing, cacti, driftwood and springs--as armatures or embellishments. “We have panniers on our bikes; (if something looks interesting), in it goes!

“My career was human resources director. I had to work so closely with laws, policy and procedure. When I retired, I was free to use my imagination and have fun with it.”

Chris’s work has won awards in several Ottawa County venues and she had a piece published in Art Doll Quarterly.


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