Welcome back to Laura Stewart’s and my bi-weekly feature, We Are The Art Life, where we talk to fans who create art inspired by Twin Peaks and David Lynch. This time we’re talking to Milly Henley, perhaps better known as Mod Pie, who has become somewhat renowned for her doppelgänger dolls of Twin Peaks characters. Hailing from County Victoria, Australia she’s been selling her creations on Etsy for almost 3 years.
25YL: Hi Milly. We love your Twin Peaks creations! How long have you been making dolls?
MP: I don’t think I ever really stopped playing with dolls. My mum used to say that she could tell if I had a bad day, because she would come home to find Barbie Dolls with fake blood dripping out of their mouths, like they’d been in some horrible accident. Despite this, I was a pretty normal, imaginative child and a collector of dolls, most of which I parted with later in my teens and wish I hadn’t.
I made my first doll for a friend, for his 21st birthday. I just thought it was a flattering and thoughtful gift. He still has it, some 22 years on. Back then, I made dolls from wire, plaster bandage and straw. They’ve evolved significantly since then. I really only decided to go off on this tangent in a more focused sense 4 years ago, after making Lil the Dancer (FWWM) and Henry Spencer (Eraserhead). It seemed the right fit for me creatively and still does.
I went on to make some of the original characters of Twin Peaks and scrolling through social media one day, saw that Madchen Amick had reposted her doll, holding a plate of Cherry Pie for International Pi Day. Realising connections could be made via social media opened me up to a new world, where there were other Peak Freaks, like me. I starting hearing my name on podcasts and in articles. I really would never have thought!
Since then, I’ve had quite a bit of interaction with some of the cast and crew and most importantly, the fans. It’s nice to feel like part of a community in which if I share something I have created, I get lots of positive feedback, instead of a white van in my driveway.
25YL: Twin Peaks fans are the best I agree! Why did you feel inspired to create Twin Peaks dolls?
MP: I think we’ve all wrapped a doll in cling wrap and proclaimed it is Laura Palmer. Haven’t we?
MP: For me, there’s just no better inspiration than Twin Peaks. There are so many amazing artists out there, that are constantly breathing new life in to our fandom. There’s so many rich, strange characters and open ended story lines within the show that we could explore and create upon forever. It’s pure genius, in my eyes.
Doll making has been a natural fit for me and it has thankfully kept me in the moment, because, to be honest, I don’t want the ride to ever end.
25YL: Let’s hope it doesn’t. So, the big question… How did you first get into Twin Peaks?
MP: I watched it from the pilot, when it aired here in Australia and recorded it on VHS, pausing through the ad breaks. I was coming in to adolescence then and was completely drawn in to that world, which I have refused to leave. I am, in many ways, a creature of habit and I have watched the series and film at least a dozen times a year since. I own every box set and still have my VHS collection. Up until recently, it was a lonely world in some ways.
Living in rural Australia, I felt removed from not only the fictional world of Twin Peaks, but the community that exists around it. I don’t have close friends who also love Twin Peaks, so when I mention it, it looks like they are bracing themselves for something. I keep talking anyway.
I remember getting the Gold Box edition and there is an extra on there of a Twin Peaks Festival. I didn’t know other fans existed, let alone a festival and would love to go to one at some point. It would be fantastic if we could get a festival happening here in Australia.
I then went over to purchase fan art in many forms, through sites like Etsy and Society6. I really do try to support other artists. They do amazing work and should be rewarded for it.
Social media has certainly connected me to some great people within the community, who I now call my friends. Most of them from far and wide, but I feel that as Twin Peaks fans, we become easily connected in a way that maybe many don’t understand. This community has been so positive and really helped push me along this last year.
I struggle to call myself an artist, even though I have been creating for many years, the term is still difficult for me. To me, Twin Peaks artists are the most insanely creative and talented bunch of people and I am blown away when I get bundled in to that category.
I had an inkling that we would in fact see Laura Palmer again in 25 years, so while the announcement of The Return wasn’t a huge shock, it was certainly momentous for me. My family and friends were calling me to ask how I was, was I excited, what was I hoping for? I got what I was hoping for and so much more.
25YL: How did you find Season 3, and has it inspired you further?
MP: From the moment it aired I was so completely transfixed. I put in for leave for the first few Mondays (when it aired in Australia), even citing “Twin Peaks” on my leave applications. From the very first moment, my mouth was open, hair standing on end and when the episode was over, I’d get up slowly and hobble away (I’m 39) because I hadn’t moved from whatever awkward position I was sitting in. I thought I’d done myself some permanent damage after Part 8, because I was sitting so far forward, in the strangest way the entire time.
I can’t talk more to it than that without keeping you all day. Just collect every great, positive word in to a very long sentence and that is how I feel about season 3. While there’s some parts you can give or take throughout every season, you wouldn’t change a thing. I have complete trust that, as fans, what we got was the perfect gift from David Lynch and Mark Frost, not to mention all of the super talented cast and crew, who are just great, humble, creative people, as far as I can tell.
The Return certainly gave me more great characters to play with. Naido was the first new character that made it to the ‘doll factory’. Nae Yuuki now has her, which makes me so incredibly happy. Since then, I’ve made a lot of the characters from The Return and the original 2 seasons.
25YL: Tell us a bit about your other, non-Twin Peaks work.
MP: My family and friends would say I live eat and breathe Twin Peaks and that’s mostly true. Not a day goes by, where I don’t find a way to throw it in to conversation. But I do love other things. Loved ones aside, if I could choose two people to be stuck on an island with, it would be David Lynch and Jim Henson. They’re just the epitome of creativity, wisdom and kindness in my mind and two people I would love/have loved to learn directly from. Anything I make that was originally dreamt up from those two men, my heart and soul goes into it completely.
When I rarely divert from Twin Peaks, I tend to just go to things that interest me or have been in my habitual loop. I have made plenty of characters from computer games, the music scene and other film and TV characters. I have also made custom dolls for people to give their friends and family as a gift. That’s always fun, trying to shrink someone down to something they will treasure forever.
I tend to create things that I would want as a fan. I had to get to a point of being ok with doing just that, because the work is always better if your heart is in it. My heart is mostly planted firmly in Twin Peaks and I don’t see that ever changing.
25YL: Do you have a favourite doll that you’ve created?
MP: I fall in love with every one of them. But I do have some keepers.
I have Jim Henson with his Kermit puppet next to my bed and I just cannot part with him. I also have a selection of Twin Peaks dolls that I have attached to light or sound and they are permanent fixtures also. Probably of those, the levitating Giant is my favourite, because that scene for me, if I had to choose just one, that’s it. It’s also really heavy, so it’s definitely not going anywhere.
I would love to exhibit one day, but I feel I would have to travel for this, so it becomes a bigger task than hiring a room.
25YL: What has been the strangest request you’ve had for a custom doll? Have you ever refused to make a doll?
MP: It would be a slight contradiction as a Twin Peaks fan to say I have found something strange and I don’t think there has been a completely absurd request yet.
People contact me all the time to talk about the dolls and sculptures and I love talking to people about the possibilities, but I do make it quite clear that I won’t make anything super negative. No pentagrams, goat’s heads or Hitler. No offence to people who are into that kind of thing.
It reminds me of Jen Lynch’s story (Obnoxious and Anonymous interview on Youtube) about David catching her reading Helter Skelter. His response was something to the effect of ‘there is dark and then there is evil’. There is a difference and I try to not cross that line.
25YL: What is your process for creating dolls?
MP: I used to make them from scratch, until I realised doll repainting would make my life easier. There’s still an element of sculpting involved, given that we don’t all have doll-like features.
Once I get the shape of the face right, I paint them, dress them and do their hair. It’s quite intimate.
My favourite part of the process is when the doll is ready for a photo shoot. I get to play with lighting and poses and put characters with other characters that have not necessarily been in the same scene together.
The possibilities are endless and for that very reason, I am grateful that Twin Peaks wasn’t wrapped up (pardon the pun) in one neat little package.
I’m currently working on mastering my marionettes and editing them and the dolls in to short films, music clips and so on. I have a grand plan for a talk show using the dolls, with a very special host that you’ll need to stay tuned for.
25YL: Sounds great. I can definitely see a chat show hosted by Leland Palmer, and Bob leaping onto the sofa grinning maniacally. So, how long does it take to create your dolls?
MP: That varies depending on detail and scale of the doll. If I cut out all of the fluffing around in between, it takes around six hours per doll, if all is going well. Marionettes and dolls that talk or have props are significantly longer processes, so I tend to do them in between other projects.
I’m an incredibly impatient person, but I am learning to take my time and be contemplative about things. I’m aware that the projects I currently have before me are going to take a lot longer and I have to be ok with that. I’m not a machine or magician and I have to be ok with that too.
25YL: Your dolls are being featured as perks for high-level backers of the Queen of Hearts Twin Peaks fan film on Indiegogo. How did that come about and what are your thoughts on that project?
MP: I had watched Cameron’s channel on and off over the years and came back to it after the return. I had reached the point where I had watched The Return/Series 3 about four times and felt that I had processed enough of the series as I could on my own.
I’ve always found Cameron and his regular crew to be a respectful and knowledgeable bunch. I use his show and another channel ‘Live at the Roadhouse’ (Frank Cronogue) as background noise while making. Late last year I made Annie in the theme of Miss Twin Peaks. I’d cut up a vintage ottoman on my studio to get that right shade of green for the bottom of that very 90s dress she wears. I decided to give it to Cameron as a thank you for unknowingly keeping me entertained. I didn’t expect that I was inadvertently spurring on his desire to make the project.
I went on his show a few times and offered to donate perks, when he went in to campaign mode. I know very little about how this fan film is going to be presented to us, but I am sure it won’t be offensive to the hardcore fans. What I do know, has me intrigued, for sure. Twin Peaks operates on a deeper level to us. It’s sacred to the fans, so it’s very sensitive ground to try to cover. It goes back to this community and helping people who are inspired by Lynch to create. We have no idea if it’s coming back, or when. It could be a very long time before drinks, so we need these projects to keep the momentum going and the discussions alive.
25YL: Do you have any other artistic interests beyond doll making?
MP: I like to dabble, my hands have to keep busy.
I love drawing, painting, needle-felting and sculpture. I once got black-listed from a real estate agency for having an 8 foot skeleton on a cross in my garage. It was representative of Jesus being flesh, but they assumed I was practicing witchcraft. Still makes me laugh to this day.
I’m completely taken by marionettes at the moment, though sometimes I can’t wrap my head around the mechanics of it. I was fortunate enough to meet Geahk Burchill when he came to Australia last year. Marionettes have been his world for over 30 years and he really helped sort me out in terms of my process and thinking. That man is a genius and an artist in every sense of the word. Why he is not world famous, is beyond me.
25YL: Well, we’ve just made him a tiny bit more famous at least. Can you tell us about your other interests?
MP: I have a family of people and animals. My 20 year old son watched The Return after catching up on the first two seasons and now loves Twin Peaks. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me when I hear Gordon Cole from his bedroom in the A.M. My 14 year-old isn’t so keen on the marionettes and dolls and it used to be quite a phobia for him. I used to warn him that I was ‘putting eyes in’ before he entered the room. Both of my children want to be artists of some kind, which is so great.
Being a creature of habit, I haven’t become obsessed with anything outside of Twin Peaks, but I do keep looking. I think my folly there is, that if you don’t get me in first half hour, I won’t stick around. Stranger Things is pretty fantastic, but that and Breaking Bad are about the only other things that I have watched more than once in the last few years. I’m sure I’m missing out on a lot.
I do have a day job and quite a day job at that. I work with high-risk teenagers in the Out of Home Care system here in Australia. Coming home to dolls and the Twin Peaks community is just the therapy I need, at times. It’s odd that I find something so other worldly, so grounding.
I really haven’t had time for much else. It has been; go to work and get in to the ‘studio’ with every other waking hour. I just found a comfy chair to sit on, so it’s absolutely my favourite place on earth. I feel really fortunate to be in a space where if I need a green 8mm eye, I can find one (preferably two).
I would very much love to be in a position where I could create full-time. I can’t imagine where life would take me if I were to be that lucky. In saying that, last year was so magical and fruitful for me and I managed to do quite a bit in 2017, with the support of the fans and some of the cast and crew. I feel really honoured that some of the cast have their dolls to remind them of, what I am sure was an amazing time for them, working on the show and with Mr Lynch.
I tend to get ideas in flood form and try to tackle everything at once. It’s possibly the worst way to work, but that’s just how I operate. I am extremely grateful to those who have supported me and I plan on continuing for as long as my hands and eyes allow.
25YL: Thanks for talking with us Milly, and keep on creating your lovely, creepy dolls and puppets!
Please do check out the previous installments in the series.