Doll Disaster Design : Jewellery

Tessa Rickard collects antique, broken doll parts and heads, and is incessantly drawn to all the strange objects that time has forgotten about. It was what prompted her business name; her Masters thesis was called “From The Mind Of A Doll Disaster”.

Her work – part jewellery, part sculpture – is endlessly intriguing. Sometimes provocative, sometimes humorous, always colourful and strange. Ghostly horses emerge from fields of grass, glass eyes peer out from flower buds and bronze snails feast on plastic roses.


doll disaster design - forest stag necklace

doll disaster design – forest stag necklace


doll disaster design - albino rabbit ring

doll disaster design – albino rabbit ring


Creepy perhaps, but Tessa is adamant. “I make what I like. I love found objects and folk lore. I get ideas from personal experiences, thoughts, folk stories, myths, and nature, and I love finding beauty in oddities and cast-offs of nature.”

She is also interested in ideas of what is valued in our society. In one group of work she explores the notion of how much our society spends on looking after our teeth; she states “Teeth are like personal jewellery.” The pieces feature false teeth, and precious stones are set into the spaces where the real teeth are missing. And there’s another personal oddity that just adds to the intrigue: “I still have two baby teeth…. never had permanent ones to come in those spots. Maybe that is why I love using teeth in my work.”


doll disaster design - brain like a sponge necklace

doll disaster design – brain like a sponge necklace


doll disaster design - eye pod ring

doll disaster design – eye pod ring


tessa rickard - grandfathers teeth

tessa rickard – grandfathers teeth.
{I have never had these pieces in a show. I would love to do that! I could not sell them… two of the necklaces are made with my grandfather’s fake teeth that he never wore and no one wanted them, but me!}


Casting is her favourite technique, although with such an eclectic range of materials to work with her skills need to be very diverse. Plastics, fake grass, shells, metal; materials are chosen for their appearance and the details of assembly are figured out as she works.

She describes her studio as a mess. “But I love it that way! If I could I would have everything out so I can see it all. My husband can’t even look at my desks because it makes him crazy. Most of the time I get so many ideas I start laying everything out and end up working on my lap. The only thing is I wish I had better lighting; but it works for now. It is my space and I go there to escape and create.”


doll disaster design - ghost horse diorama brooch

doll disaster design – ghost horse diorama brooch


She started selling her work on Etsy in 2007, when many of the local jewellery galleries in Michigan closed. It really sparked a new direction for her. “I struggled for years with galleries, and shows trying to sell my work. But I always stayed true to myself and what I wanted to make. I found Etsy and I now know there are people out there to appreciate me and my pieces.” It’s her biggest piece of advice to anyone who is starting out.


“Keep making what you love and want to make. The world is a big place, someone out there will love it!”


doll disaster design - level me up earrings

doll disaster design – level me up earrings


doll disaster design - seek and find curiosity ring

doll disaster design – seek and find curiosity ring


Drawing, painting and making things came naturally to her from an early age. “My mother told me that she couldn’t keep enough paper in the house for me as a child. I remember being happy when I would draw or make something, and that is still how I feel today.

Metal has long held a fascination for her too. “When I was little I would go with my dad when he would use the metal detector and to dig in old dump sites. After he would dig up an old coin or piece of jewelry, I would remember thinking how interesting it was that it was still there after being buried for so long. We would find old, broken bisque dolls and other metal objects too. Working in metal to me means a more permanent or indestructible piece of art. I love the thought of someone someday digging up one of my pieces!”


tessa rickard - part of her collections

tessa rickard – part of her collections


Tessa currently runs her own studio and has been teaching jewellery at college for 17 years. “I guess it would be in high school that I decided to be a “real” artist, but in college I figured out how hard it was going to be to make a living being just an artist, so I decided to also teach art.” She has a BFA in drawing and a Masters degree in Metalsmithing/Jewelry. Her experience in casting and mechanics came when she worked for an artist on his project for three years making working stock tickers, and then working for her graduate school professor making his wax models and gates.

Her work has been published in nine art books, including six in the Lark 500 series. A metal purse that she made is now part of the collection in the Tassen Museum in Amsterdam.

You can find more of Tessa’s work in her Etsy shop, DollDisasterDesign.


tessa rickard - studio

tessa rickard – studio


Oh, and she can totally relate to being a tractorgirl. “I grew up on a grain farm in southern Indiana US. All my dad owned was John Deere tractors! I know how to drive them too.”