Jacksonville santa lady

Progress photo by Hannah Buchanan

Whatever people like to call him ... the spirit of Christmas, Old Saint Nick or Santa Claus, one thing is certain, one Jacksonville resident can’t get enough of him or his Christmas friends.

With her love of Santa combined with her artistic abilities, Suzanne Espenlaub creates one-of-a-kind collector Santa dolls in her very own studio behind her Jacksonville home. With a careful eye and great attention to detail, every creation is made by hand, Suzanne said. Polymer clay turns into a face and hands, while various fabrics transform into clothing.

“I use real makeup for the faces, put on the eyelashes ... the eyes are blown glass. I bake the clay in a regular oven ... all clothing is original; I designed all of it,” Suzanne said.

Suzanne, who grew up in Indiana and moved to Jacksonville with her husband, David, in 1977, said she began creating the dolls two years ago.

“I first saw it in The Santa Claus Magazine. There were two different articles in the magazine that talked about making the dolls. I told myself, ‘I like that. I'd like to try that,’ but I didn't know how to start the project. My husband ordered a video which showed the process.”

Even though she never used clay in her work before, as an artist, that didn’t stop her.

“I have painted and drawn all my life. It was the first time I ever used clay artistically. This was just a new artistic endeavor. When I saw it, I fell in love with it, and I really enjoy it,” Suzanne said, who also paints in a lot of different styles of pictures, landscapes and even wall murals.

To date, Suzanne has created 10 dolls, including a life-size Santa which stands at five foot, two inches tall, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, an African-American Santa, a Fourth of July Santa and even an elf.

“It takes anywhere between 80 and 100 hours to create a doll,” Suzanne said.

Since each is hand-sculpted and hand-painted, Suzanne said she likes to give each doll a uniqueness all its own ... from its face, down to its outfit. With the hours it takes to make a face, how does she know it’s finished? What is Suzanne’s secret?

“For each head ... I work on it until I laugh, then I know it has enough personality,” Suzanne said. “You have to have some vision before you start.”

She decided to participate in Mistletoe and Magic, a holiday vendor event in Tyler, this year and said she was surprised at the response she received.

“When I was there, everyone enjoyed them,” she added.

Her works of art are for sale, and Suzanne also takes custom orders for dolls. For more information, to place orders or to see pictures of the finished dolls, visit her Web site at www.originalsantas.com.

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