West Valley collector creates lavish dioramas

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  • Detail of a doll circus created by Trish Hurley. The circus uses Tonner dolls and other toys with costumes and decorations she made herself over the last two years.

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    TOP, Trish Hurley, 72, has a commercial art degree. She has spent 2 years mixing dolls and toys with costumes she made herself to recreate a circus from 1936. Above, details of the circus diorama Hurley is currently creating. The circus uses Tonner dolls and other toys with costumes and decorations she made herself over the last two years.

  • 2

    Detail of a doll circus created by Trish Hurley. The circus uses Tonner dolls and other toys with costumes and decorations she made herself over the last two years.

  • 3

    Detail of a doll circus created by Trish Hurley. The circus uses Tonner dolls and other toys with costumes and decorations she made herself over the last two years.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

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    Trish Hurley, 73, has a commercial art degree. She has spent 2 years mixing dolls and toys with costumes she made her self to recreate a circus from 1936.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 5

    Detail of a doll circus created by Trish Hurley. The circus uses Tonner dolls and other toys with costumes and decorations she made herself over the last two years.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 6

    Detail of a doll circus created by Trish Hurley. The circus uses Tonner dolls and other toys with costumes and decorations she made herself over the last two years.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 7

    Detail of a doll circus created by Trish Hurley. The circus uses Tonner dolls and other toys with costumes and decorations she made herself over the last two years.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • Detail of a doll circus created by Trish Hurley. The circus uses Tonner dolls and other toys with costumes and decorations she made herself over the last two years.

  • 1

    TOP, Trish Hurley, 72, has a commercial art degree. She has spent 2 years mixing dolls and toys with costumes she made herself to recreate a circus from 1936. Above, details of the circus diorama Hurley is currently creating. The circus uses Tonner dolls and other toys with costumes and decorations she made herself over the last two years.

  • 2

    Detail of a doll circus created by Trish Hurley. The circus uses Tonner dolls and other toys with costumes and decorations she made herself over the last two years.

  • 3

    Detail of a doll circus created by Trish Hurley. The circus uses Tonner dolls and other toys with costumes and decorations she made herself over the last two years.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 4

    Trish Hurley, 73, has a commercial art degree. She has spent 2 years mixing dolls and toys with costumes she made her self to recreate a circus from 1936.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 5

    Detail of a doll circus created by Trish Hurley. The circus uses Tonner dolls and other toys with costumes and decorations she made herself over the last two years.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 6

    Detail of a doll circus created by Trish Hurley. The circus uses Tonner dolls and other toys with costumes and decorations she made herself over the last two years.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

  • 7

    Detail of a doll circus created by Trish Hurley. The circus uses Tonner dolls and other toys with costumes and decorations she made herself over the last two years.(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

As Trish Hurley contemplates the pleasure she gets from collecting dolls and outfitting them in grand style, she admits it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

And when folks don’t immediately understand her hobby or the exorbitant amount of time she spends sewing clothes and making furnishings for her dolls, she quietly defends her pastime.

“Does there have to be a purpose?” she muses. “If anything it’s for my enjoyment. It keeps you going.”

Hurley, 72, is a disabled veteran who lives alone at her rural home in the West Valley. Working with dolls fills the hours of her days.

For the past two years she’s been creating a 1936 circus diorama she estimates will span 50 feet and include a big-top tent when it’s fully completed. The dolls and furnishings are on a one-twelfth scale — one inch equals one foot.

“I’ve been working on this for two years on and off. I’ve done so much research trying to figure out how to make some of the stuff,” she said. The circus carousel, for example, was fashioned from a lazy susan.

Hurley draws on her background as a commercial artist to craft the doll clothes and furnishings.

“I have a commercial art degree. It’s an offshoot from that, just being creative,” she said. “Most of the time I just want to see if I can do it.”

Hurley has collected more than 200 dolls through the years, the oldest being a late 1800s Gibson Girl doll. The Gibson Girl was artist Charles Dana Gibson’s image of the feminine ideal of physical attractiveness as portrayed in his illustrations of that era.

Before Hurley got into making doll clothes in a big way, she used to make costumes for members of the Northwest Montana Ballet Co. and also did some costuming for the local Society of Creative Anachronism.

“I have at least 60 dolls I’ve made complete wardrobes for,” from undergarments to beach wear, she noted. “I do beading, embroidery and all the sewing.

“It’s all imagination. The basic thing behind all of this [stems from] when I was a little girl, we played with dolls.”

Hurley has conjured up several doll dioramas based on various themes. One featured film star Rudolph Valentino and the dancing girl of the 1921 silent movie, “The Shiek.”

She enjoys the research that goes into each of her doll scenes. “I dig into what I can find,” she said. “I have tons of books on fashion.”

Once a doll scene is completed, Hurley takes photographs and documents her creation by using the Shutterfly photo service to put together a keepsake book with photos and an accompanying story.

Her 1936 Ringling Brothers circus scene is her biggest endeavor to date, and she’s hoping for a 50-page book that can be turned into an e-book for publication.

“The reason I picked 1936 was we were coming out of the Great Depression. Circuses were very popular then, and it’s one of the things America is losing. That was part of people’s entertainment then,” she said. “I love history.”

Hurley was born and raised in Waco, Texas. Her family moved around because her father was in the military. She discovered Northwest Montana where her father retired and bought land in the Noxon area. When Hurley completed her service with the Air Force, she, too, settled on Northwest Montana.

“I picked Kalispell over 30 years ago,” she said.

Hurley is already looking ahead to her next doll project, a steampunk gypsy wedding.

“I already have the church made, and the gypsy wagon, but I haven’t configured the story yet,” she said. “I had a gal make a horse for me out of pipes. It’s so steampunk.”

As Hurley wiles away her days in her world of make-believe, she relies on the internet not only for research but also for retail connections to dolls and furnishings, such as Etsy, eBay, and Amazon.

Her passion for dolls is nothing out of the ordinary, Hurley points out. In fact, according to the United Federation of Doll Clubs, doll collecting is one of the largest hobby groups in the world.

But Hurley’s obsession goes well beyond collecting to nurture her creative side.

“The creative end of life is what I enjoy,” she said.

Features Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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