Another Strong Heart Finished

I made this for someone who had heart surgery and deserved a purple heart:


If you’d like to know more about the Strong Heart fabric art doll, you can read about it here.


Thanks for reading my post.  If you like it share it.  If you find a typo, please let me know and I’ll send you a thank-you postcard.  

You can now follow me on Instagram@joymurrayart and Twitter @joymurrayhere.  I no longer have a facebook account.

You can get prints and cards of some of my work on Redbubble.  They also print my work on lots of other items, including phone skins, tote bags, shirts and journals:

If you’d like to support my art and writing, please consider becoming a donor on Patreon.  If I get enough supporters, I can make this blog ad-free!  Here’s a link to my Patreon page:

If you prefer to make a one time donation, you can do so at  Please email me at if you’d like details.



Return of the Strong Heart

Since I’ve been back in Memphis where most of my friends and clients know me as a fabric artist,  I’ve been strongly urged to get back to making dolls and fabric sculptures.

The reason I quit was because in Portland I moved into a small apartment with my then partner, and I no longer had the space for all the materials it took to make 3D work from fabric and found objects.  I was also having trouble with pain in my hands, and I wanted to learn to draw and paint better.

I have one friend in particular who wanted me to make start making Strong Heart dolls again. I made my first one for her when she was going through some life/love difficulties about 20 years ago.  The story that goes with the doll:


Sometimes we all feel that our hearts are weak and easily broken.  I believe the heart is strong and will always lead you back to a place of contentment and happiness.  There is a bit of whimsy, wildness and adventure coursing through every human heart.   So it’s only natural to sometimes get into situations that are uncomfortable and painful.

This Strong Heart Doll was made to remind you of the heart’s true nature.  It’s a one of a kind unbreakable work of art – shake it up, squeeze it tight or throw it across the room.  When you’re ready to hold it close again, it’ll be there for you – strong and unbroken and ready for the next adventure.

After making hers, I found a lot of people needed reminders of their strong hearts.  I made a lot of them for people going through tough times and illness.  They became medicine dolls, something to hang onto and a bit of humor to help hearts heal.

Some of the dolls I made in Portland:

Joy's Dolls, Gallery and Show 009
This is two Strong Hearts, a fox doll, a heart doll with limbs, a floppy doll, and a sculpted one
Survivor front
I also made sculpted figures from cloth and armature.  This one is called The Survivor, for  breast cancer survivors.
I did this one for the Works of Heart auction for the Memphis Child Advocacy Center
blue bird woman
I made a series of bird women that were metaphors for mobility impairment.
Daphne-Tree Woman
And a series of Tree Women that also dealt with mobility impairments

I also did pieces you could hang on the wall, but they are very hard to photograph.  I also wasn’t very good at photographing my art.  A lot went unphotographed, and a lot are on old small files that show up as thumbnails when I try to put them online.


Not Out of the Woods Yet

I made hundreds of pieces in fabric.  All hand-stitched, with my hand-knitted and beaded embellishments.   I felt I’d said all I needed to in that format.  And in fabric art, you are limited in how much you can do, how far you can push the fabric, what expressions you can make on the faces, what position you can pose the figures.  I wanted to do more.  Looking back now, though, I think these pieces expressed a lot.

So, last week, I took my first commissions for Strong Heart dolls.  It’s a slippery slope back to an old love.  I feel a tingling in my heart and hands.  Something forgotten has come home and needs an outlet.

My first Strong Heart in 6  years:

These dolls don’t stand on their own.  They rest on a a pillow or are propped against something sturdy.  They are made for embracing.


The hand-stitching is visible, a reminder we’re all stitched together from the scraps of life
My client was delighted and it made my heart happy.
My friends with their Strong Hearts. The pink one was the first made about 20 years ago, the other made two days ago.  We’re still sharing our strength.

It’s already had a positive effect on my own heart.  Time will tell where that leads.  I know in these troubled days, we all need to be reminded of our own strength, and the power of love.

If you’d like to read about when I became a drawer instead of a sewer, you can read that here.  There are a few more pictures of my fabric art in that post.

If you’re interested in commissioning a Strong Heart of your own, I am selling them for $50.  You can email me at joyzmailbox @ and I’ll give you details.  I hope to have a few to sell on Etsy or Ebay soon, but have already gotten a few commissions to finish in the next week.

Thanks for reading my blog, and stay strong.  Your heart is stitched together from very strong material.


Thanks for reading my post.  If you like it share it.  If you find a typo, please let me know and I’ll send you a thank-you postcard.  

You can get prints and cards of some of my work on Redbubble.  They also print my work on lots of other items, including phone skins, tote bags, shirts and journals:

If you’d like to support my art and writing, please consider becoming a donor on Patreon.  If I get enough supporters, I can make this blog ad-free!  Here’s a link to my Patreon page:

If you prefer to make a one time donation, you can do so at  Please email me at if you’d like details.


Tara Books: Slender Art Galleries on the Book Shelf

Ever since the internet and inexpensive computers and e-readers came into existence, people have been speculating on the death of the book.  From where I sit, though, books are flourishing.  Instead of killing off the book, I think new technologies have allowed more people to produce more kinds of books and find an audience.
One of the newer presses I’m particularly grateful for is Tara Books.  I’m pretty sure I would never have even found out about them if it weren’t for modern networking through the internet.  Tara Books was started in Chennai, India, by visionary publisher Gita Wolf over 10 years ago.  Here’s an excerpt from an article by the Christian Science Monitor, July, 2014:
“Over the past 10 years, she (Gita Wolf) has collaborated with women tribal artists to create award-winning publications. In doing so, she’s helped the women step across the gulf that divides preliterate societies from the modern world of arts and letters.
”She had a young son and was dissatisfied with the available children’s books. She wanted to see bold illustrations that showed children the world of India, and she enlisted friends who were writers and designers to help create them.
“She was also active in the feminist and anti-caste movements. Five years ago she turned Tara into a worker-owned collective.”
The first book I bought from Tara was The Night Life of the Trees, by artists Durga Bai, Bhajju Shyam, and Ram Singh Urveti of the Gond tribe.  It was a pleasure to read, touch and see.  The art was exquisite line work in bright colors on black handmade paper.  The ink had a presence: it had what artist Tom Sarmo calls a “thingness.”  The narrative was poetic and told tales that blurred the borders between trees, humans, and creatures.  It was true work of art, handbound, and I could purchase it here in Portland for about $30.  Anyone anywhere could purchase it from Amazon.

It’s almost miraculous that these beautiful books by tribal people from a remote area can be bought and treasured everywhere in the world.
Not all their books are silk screened and handmade, but all of them are beautifully presented.
The latest book I got from them is Hope is a Girl Selling Fruit by Amrita Das.  Das has painted in the Mithila tradition of art, which originated from women living in rural Bihar.  Das builds on traditional style and creates a compelling story.  Her art illustrates her personal journey and the journey she imagines of an impoverished girl she met on a train.  The story honors the traditions of women in her culture but also questions the confines of their lives.  Even the girl who represents hope is a mixed metaphor — the art beautiful, the life it portrays hard.
“This other girl was poor too, and her clothes were torn.  She had lost a leg, but she managed to push her cart around confidently.  Two boys pointed to her and laughed, but she wasn’t bothered….  She’s her own creature, I thought, she walking around, she’s earning and supporting her family.”
I learn more about human strength and dignity in a book like this than I can ever glean from the news or documentaries.  Tara doesn’t print books about artists, the artists speak for themselves.  And it turns out their personal stories are universal, with undertones of myth and magic.
In a similar vein, Following my Paintbrush by Dulari Deva, text by Gita Wolf, is done also in colorful vibrant Mithila art.  It starts out simply:
“I am an artist, but I wasn’t always one.  This is the story of how it happened.”
 She tells how she worked in rice fields, cooked and took care of brothers and sisters, sold fish, and washed other people’s dishes.  “Time passed and I grew up, but I still did the same work.  I had never gone to school, so I was not trained to do any other job.  Sometimes I wished I could do something else.  Everyday was the same, as it had been from the time I was a small girl.”
One day, she sees a group of children playing and makes a picture in her mind.  Next she paints a fish in the mud.  Then she finds out a lady she works for is an artist.  The artist encourages Deva and she begins to create not only gorgeous art but a new identity for herself
Tara publishes all sorts of stories.  They have both men and women artists and storytellers creating books.
Alone in the Forest, by Bhajju Shyam, Andrea Anastasio, and Gita Wolf, is a folk tale.  Musa has to gather firewood because his mother is sick.  “I’m grown up now, I’ll get the wood!”  But it isn’t long before the sounds of the forest convince him that he is being stalked by a wild boar.  His imagination runs wild as he hides in the hollow of a tree.
 The illustrations of his imaginings and fear are enchanting, even when they’re scary.  The text is integrated into the drawings and furthers the visual delight.  The colors are muted and natural; it feels like you’re looking into a forest. The style isn’t realistic but it portrays the chaos of feeling lost.  The trees and animals are highly detailed — imagination and traditional imagery are at play here. I love that a yellow cow comes to the rescue, in its peaceful way, and brings Musa home.
Gobble You Up,by Sunita and Gita Wolf, is another of Tara’s hand made books.  Printed on handmade brown paper with black and white drawings, it’s a captivating book in all regards.  An adaptation of an oral Rajasthani trickster tale, featuring a wily jackal who tricks and eats his friend the crane.  Then he proceeds to gobble up every animal he comes across.
Sunita is an artist from the Meena tribe in Rajasthan, who works in a traditional finger painting style called Mandna.  This book is the first time that this art form has been used to illustrate a children’s story.  To keep the feel of the art, it’s been silkscreen printed in two colors by hand on specially made kraft paper.  The drawings have a lacy, delicate feel that speaks of the transitory nature of all life.
I’ve loved introducing children here at Bridge Meadows to this book at Halloween time, when funny scary stories are in demand.  It’s a work of art they can touch.  They know a jackal can’t eat an elephant, but they also know greed can be insatiable.  It delights them to see all the animals in the bloated jackal’s belly and then see the animals come back to life. We love the off kilter rhymes and expressive texts.
And I, too, know that greed can be insatiable.  I feel insatiable about the books Tara is creating and encouraging.   I have to buy them rather than just check them out at the library.  I feel like they are little art galleries I can open and immerse myself in.  And when I’m done, I can slip them back onto the bookshelf in my small apartment, where they will wait til I need them again.  As I collect them, I’ll share what I find.
These books are available in some libraries.  The Multnomah County library has Following My Brush, Alone in the Forest, and, surprisingly, Gobble You Up!, a limited edition.  (They have #99 of 7000).  So, if you can’t afford them, check them out at the library.  Most libraries will help you get books from other libraries through their networking system.
You can learn more about Tara books here.
Here is a direct link to a video of their printing process:
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Thanks for stopping by.

Many Hats, Many Stories

Ken Iverson, Joy, Foster Nuffer, Julie Strozyk

I went to the rehearsal for Mid Winter’s Tales yesterday.  I feel very honored to a part of this group of storytellers.  It will be a remarkable, thoughtful and warming experience.  Ken, Julie and Foster are all wonderful tellers.  There’s a wide range of stories, most leaning toward the contemplative rather than the whimsical, although we have a bit of humor, too.

Julie is going to tell an original poem called the Apple Tree Man and a wonderful adventure story called Katya and the Magic Nesting Dolls.  I will tell the Northwest Native American tale Moon, Otter, and Little Ugly Green Frog.  I’ll also be debuting an original tale called The Blunder Chair, which tells how the Lelooska Northwest Indian masks helped me deal with my mobility issues.  Foster, a Greek myth expert, will tell the story of Demeter and Kore.  Ken will tell a tale of saving spring called Heart of Winter, and a lovely tale of rebirth called The River.

It promises to be an enchanting event.

I wore my storyteller’s hat for the rehearsal, but Julie’s sister Eileen showed me appreciation for my story by giving me one of her hand crocheted hats.  It was pretty cool because I wore earrings that had been given to me by a crafter in appreciation of one of my Chronically Inspired workshops.  When I got home, I realized how much a hat can change your looks — and how the way you wear a had can change you, too.

Hat tied in back
Hat tied in front

I still like my storyteller’s hat best.

Anansi Spider Hat

I got this hat about 15 years ago at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History.  They were doing a West African exhibit and these hats were for sale in the gift shop.  Anansi is a trickster and storyteller in West African culture.  When I tried it on, my former husband said, “Girl that hat is you!”  It’s been my favorite ever since.  I find I can tell a story better when I have a story image on my garments.  I wear animal and moon shaped jewelry.  I try to have tokens of the spirits of the stories with me to help me step into the magic.  Plus, it honors the story to dress up a little for it.

Julie Strozyk made a story vest for her Magic Nesting Doll story.  Wow!

Julie's Story Vest

What we wear becomes us, in some way.  I love how we wear garments on the outside but stories on the inside.  They are the way we dress our hearts and souls.

I hope you dress your heart well and warm, with stories that make you happy.

Come hear me, Ken Iverson, Foster Nuffer, and Julie Strozyk tell stories at the Portland Storyteller’s Guild
January 8, 2011, 7 p.m.
McMenamin’s Kennedy School – Community Room
5736 NE 33rd
Portland 97211

Doors open at 6:30, No reserved seating, early arrival recommended
Suggested Donations: Adult-$5, Child-$4, and $10 for the entire family!