By: Barbara S. F. Davis
Anne Freels lives in a magical house, supporting herself making beauty by hand…
At the top of a hill in Clinton with meadows and mountains as a backyard, artist Anne Freels‘ life is one many would covet. She’s supported herself for the last 15 years by doing what she loves – crafting hand-made corn shuck dolls and natural body products.
“I left a 20-year career with DOE contractors in 1997 to pursue my passion…It was like jumping off a cliff, but I survived, and now I use my home as my workplace.”
Anne had her “15 seconds of my 15 minutes of fame” as the baby on The Oak Ridger cover for New Year’s Day, 1958. She’s lived in or near Oak Ridge all her life.
“In 1975 I attended a high school Appalachian Studies class where we were taught how to make a few traditional Appalachian crafts, and after I made my first one, I gleefully said, ‘Can I make another one?’
The tradition comes from Native Americans “because they’re the ones who cultivated corn. Originally they made corn shuck dolls as children’s toys, which have since evolved into works of art.”
The average height of Anne’s creations is about 9 inches. She uses natural dried corn shucks, dies them by hand, and deftly cuts and shapes them into free-standing forms that just beg to be finished as personalities.
Anne’s trademark Wingshuck Angel is resplendent in turquoise and harmonious hues, adorned with broad feathered wings, juniper and moss. “She’s the guardian angel of all my creative pursuits. She makes a lovely mantle piece or tree topper, as well as a year-long visual blessing in any room.
“I gather or grow most of the seeds, herbs, flowers that embellish the dolls. Since I do seasonal dolls, I help customers decorate for Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving, Christmas, the solstices and equinoxes, and lesser known holidays like Samhain.”
Anne’s dolls represent her interpretations of the natural rhythms of the earth, including the changing of the seasons, and other imaginative figures depicting folklore, legend and myth.
Who are your customers?
“I have a devoted following of folks who appreciate traditional crafts with contemporary flair. My customers are gallery owners and collectors, travelers who want to take them as housewarming gifts, teachers, nurses, chefs . . . . These dolls appeal to people who want an object that radiates organic color into any part of the house.”
Do the dolls represent individuals or archetypes?
“I make saints and sinners, angels, witches, preachers, priestesses and goddesses, right along side the more traditional heritage-style dolls like women with quilting, knitting, weaving, butter churns, flowers, babies or brooms. My newest doll is made with the intention of Prosperity. She represents abundance and can be placed in the ‘prosperity’ corner of your room, to bring more of this into your life.
“Frida Kahlo, St. Francis, St. Therese and a Victorian Father Christmas are on display with Woodswoman and Shaman, divine archetypes of the female and male spirit journey dolls of Appalachian culture. “She taught him everything he knows!” Anne grinned.
The Kitchen Witches are charming indeed. Why “kitchen?”
“Kitchen witches keep your pots from boiling over, your cookies from burning, and your coffee from turning bitter — your basic good luck witch.”
Do you make all the dolls by yourself?
“Up until now, every piece was made by my hands, but after 38 years of tying corn shucks, I am training an apprentice to help me.”
Will these dolls be on display at your December 7 Open House?
“Yes, most will be. And every doll I display will be for sale.”
How much do these dolls cost?
“It depends on the style you want. They range from $5 for a bookmark, to up to $125 for my “Appalachian Gothic” couple. The average price is around $45, but once a year I I have special discounts available to Open House customers only.”
Where can people find the hours of the Open House and directions?
“My Facebook page, Anne Freels and Wingshuck (or just Wingshuck) gives all the details.
“There will be finger food and a wood-burning stove to keep visitors warm from Noon – 5:00 PM on Saturday, December 7.” Those who are unable to attend the Open House may purchase directly from Anne on Facebook.
Annie Egypt Herbal Soaps
“The soaps and creams I make are a separate enterprise, Annie Egypt Herbals. In common with the dolls, they are made from natural raw materials which have alchemical properties,” says Freels.
“I got up the nerve to make my first batch of soap in 1995; it had honey and grits and was a disaster! Well, it seemed I got the hardest soap recipe out of the way, so I concocted my own recipes from the available literature. People really like the soaps and keep coming back for more.”
Where do you make the soaps and what are the ingredients?
“My house is my factory. I make them in the kitchen. The principal ingredients are vegetarian oils, saponified lye, herbs, spices and pure essential oils, which have aromatherapy and restorative properties.”
What makes Annie Egypt Herbals soap better than Dial or Dove, or whatever drugstore soap we can buy?
“There are no synthetics. The herbs act as an exfoliant, the vegetable oils are moisturizing, and the essential oils give heavenly scents that fill the room.
“They’re made with intention, as are the dolls. My philosophy is to provide a soap you know is good for you.”
Since the skin is the largest organ of the body, it makes sense to apply natural ingredients. Can I buy the soaps on-line?
“No, but you can order from me on my Facebook page. Or better yet, come touch and smell them at the December 7 Open House.”
What ingredients go into your face and body creams?
“Aloe vera gel, fresh vegetable oils, beeswax, cocoa butter, distilled water, vitamin E oil (which acts as a preservative, since I don’t use chemicals), and essential oils.
“I also make body oils, anointing oils, herbal bath bags, eye pillows stuffed with lavender and flax seed, spritzers, face scrub and healing salve.
Preserving youth and becoming more beautiful are utter obsessions in our culture. Your soaps and creams seem like a combination of good sense and good ecology.
” I like to say that Annie Egypt Herbals products won’t make you beautiful, they will keep you beautiful,” smiled Anne.
“I’m continually discovering what my life purpose is. Creating the dolls and making the body products move me closer to that purpose, a kind of alchemy that creates something new from natural raw materials. This gives my soul joy. It’s the essence of the lifestyle most might like to live.”
December 7 from Noon – 5:00 pm Anne Freels’ Annual Open House is open to the public and the reader is invited.
See Anne Freels’ corn shuck dolls in a small display window in downtown Knoxville, between the East Tennessee Design Center (ETDC) and The Market. This location is directly across from the intersection of Gay Street and Union Avenue.
Dolls depicted in this article may no longer be for sale.
© Barbara S F Davis