Country artist Raudy Maxwell adds camp to his whimsical dolls
SCOTT HUFFMAN | Contributing Writer
“Sometimes I don’t see what others do in my artwork,” Raudy Maxwell laughingly says of the unique and whimsical folk art he creates.
“People ask, ‘Why don’t you see it?’ I say, ‘I don’t know. I just enjoy doing it.’”
Maxwell, whose home base is Perryville, Ark., creates anthropomorphic animals, Loretta Lynn-inspired dolls, mannequin floor lamps and just about anything else someone might request, including a purple dragon. He describes his signature style — twice nominated for the Martha Stewart American Made Award — as primitive folk art. Each of his handmade pieces is purposefully imperfectly stitched and carefully fabricated to look as though it could have been made by an early American settler.
“Once I create the pieces, they go through a process where I paint them and I stain them with coffee, vanilla and cinnamon,” Maxwell, 43, explains. “It gives them the look of being aged. And the cinnamon serves the purpose of not only smelling good, but back in the day when women were on the wagons on dusty roads, they would make animals or dolls for their children. They would be dusty. I try to keep that part of it alive.”
Among Maxwell’s more popular pieces are the animals he creates with human-like characteristics, including dogs, pigs and horses. He recently showcased a number of his horse art pieces (owned by celebrities like Crystal Gayle and Ty Herndon) with great success at the Kentucky Derby. The out artist attributes the animal influences to his childhood.
“I was raised on a farm,” Maxwell says. “We had goats, pigs and all that mess. I would see the animals as humans because I would talk to them and stuff. I guess the older I’ve gotten, my childhood memories come out in the artwork I create.”
Maxwell first began crafting his pieces more than 10 years ago because he liked primitive art décor. He found, however, that the items in which he was interested either lacked quality or were simply too pricey. He decided to experiment, and he made a few things for his home. Family and friends quickly began asking him to make similar pieces. The idea of selling his work on a larger scale, however, was the result of meeting country music queen Loretta Lynn, to whom he was introduced via his friend Tim Cobb, Lynn’s personal assistant and costume designer.
“I created a Coal Miner’s rooster for her,” Maxwell recalls. “I took it to her, and she loved it. She sat down to talk to me, and she said, ‘Do you realize you have a talent?’ I felt a confirmation that I could actually do this. It kind of inspired me. I started really hitting the festivals and getting out there to see what would happen.”
While Maxwell markets his pieces online through his own website and his Facebook page, the artist’s first love is showing his work at craft fairs and festivals. He likes the first hand feedback he gets on his pieces, and he enjoys witnessing people’s unsolicited reactions to his work.
“There was a Santa and sleigh I created with all the reindeer,” Maxwell says. “It was a huge display that took a lot of time. I noticed that people reacted really well to that display. I guess it reminds them of something in their childhood or their life. I enjoy making someone feel good with my artwork.”
Lately, Maxwell has kept busy filling a number of orders for custom-designed dogs and cats. In fact, out actor and comedian Leslie Jordan once commissioned the artist to create the likeness of his mother’s dog, Conway Twitty, for her. And Maxwell is always creating Loretta Lynn-inspired dolls for sale at Lynn’s Nashville boutique and gift shops — “Every time I made one, it’s gone!” he says — using leftover fabric from Lynn’s gowns which Cobb saves for him. The artist’s goal, though, is to increase his exposure by attending more craft fairs and adding additional stores.
“There are some bigger festivals I’m trying to focus on getting into,” Maxwell says. “Some of those are juried. They see your stuff and vote on it. And it’s always on my mind to expand the business and get into some more boutiques. I haven’t really pursued that over this past year, because I’ve had so many custom orders.”
Maxwell has also begun work on a collection of dolls inspired by characters of the cult movie Sordid Lives. He has already finished a Brother Boy-inspired doll which he presented to the show’s creator, Del Shores. (Maxwell has even obtained Shores’ permission to complete the collection.)
“It’s actually so much fun,” Maxwell enthuses. “I laughed even doing the doll. I’m really honored to be able to do that. I’ve been working on some now to get them on the website. I’m so OCD about my stuff. I want to make sure it’s right.”
For the time being, however, the country craftsman is simply grateful for his success.
“It’s still surreal to me,” Maxwell says of his folk art career. “I was raised to get a 9-to-5 job. I think once you find your passion in life, it’s a blessing. Fortunately, it’s worked out for me and I enjoy it. You know, I guess sometimes … I don’t take it for granted at all, but I think sometimes it is a confirmation that I am able to make a living doing it.”
For more information, visit RaudyDesigns.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 27, 2015.