A publication featuring student work from the Department of English and Communications at Salve Regina University.
BY CIARA SPELLER
I t was like walking into a scene of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” with a touch of Santa’s workshop, if you can imagine something of that nature. Or maybe entering a world foreign to most, but one every little girl would dream of. Doodads, thingamabobs, trinkets and widgets of all sorts hang from ceiling to floor. Pinks, purples, plaids and royal fabrics and textures most have never laid eyes on decorate the walls. It’s a fairytale dream come to life, allowing all who wish to experience this magical world to come aboard. It’s Charlene Rich’s world of Miniature Occasions and Dolls.
“We consider it art,” says Rich, the owner of the store, referring to her shop’s collection of vintage dolls. Entering her shop, one would think her collection would catch the eyes of young girls who long to play with these special characters, but most of her clients are adults from all over the country. Sending out custom orders as far as California and Minnesota is a norm for Rich.
Her passion for miniatures and handcrafted items dates back many years prior to the store’s opening. “Before opening this store, I lived in Korea designing dolls for stores in the states,” Rich explains darting in and out of trunks and cases filled with treasures from the 1950s. After her return from Korea, Rich decided it was time to open her own store to share her passion with individuals like herself. Her original boutique in the lower Thames area opened in 1986, but was short lived. She then relocated to Bellevue Avenue in 1991 where her boutique has flourished ever since.
This land of fantasy also features antique dollhouses and marionettes dating back to the early 1900s. One of Rich’s favorite pieces is a restored dollhouse from 1914. Inside this unique historic house are intricate rooms and furniture, replicating a house of its time.
The dolls reenact a scene from this era, sitting up in wooden-pillared beds, playing with old-fashioned toys, and even eating at kitchen tables with handcrafted dishes. The scene truly gives a sense of what life during that time was like. You can’t help but step back and imagine how much time and dedication must have gone into these works and recognize Rich as an artist, much like a da Vinci or van Gogh of dolls.
Rich often refers to her regular customers as her friends, as some of them have been with her from the start. Those are the kinds of things that bring a smile to Rich’s face—the memories that are made and shared in her shop. Rich has welcomed celebrities such as Aretha Franklin in her shop and any number of famous doll-makers. Her work has been featured in the “Yankee Travel Guide,” the “Boston Globe” and other media outlets, but Rich remains humble, never letting the “fame” get to her.
Sitting at her desk, drilling away to restore an antique, Rich is doing what she enjoys the most. “When you do a repair for someone who hasn’t seen a piece in a long time and they are happy with the results, it makes me feel so good inside,” she says.
And that’s magic.