Sunday, March 15, 2009

Michael Lee DollMaker

While searching through web information on cloth dolls made by refugees in Hong Kong, I came across several references to the dollmaker Michael Lee. I confess I am a little confused in regards to the extent of his doll-making. It seems he was involved in the creation of composition as well as strictly cloth dolls from the time period of the late 1940's on in to perhaps the 1990's. A picture from the Mint Museum of Toys in Singapore shows Mr. Lee holding a female composition doll with painted features, attached black floss pigtails, and wearing a blue Chinese tunic and tan pants. Dating from 1946, she is recognized as his first doll. Information about the museum states that their "Michael Lee Collection speaks of an altruistic toymaker who migrated to Hong Kong from mainland China. He led a very frugal life, contributing the proceeds from the sale of his dolls to the education of children and livelihood of fellow refugees in Hong Kong." (

Another article written by a visitor to Hong Kong who sought out the dollmaker includes the details that Mr. Lee was originally from Shanghai and had passed away in November of 1996. This article titled "Dollmaker Lit Candles for Hope" written by Mary Chandler gives a sensitive portrait of a gentle and giving man with a unique and timeless philosophy on life. At the time of that particular visit, Mr. Lee was crafting cloth dolls with large round flat faces, big smiles, and brightly dotted checks. They also wore the traditional Chinese outfits and some carried babies. I'm not sure if he dated, signed (English & Chinese), and chopped (put the red Chinese stamp) on the foot of every doll; but clearly he did this on some. My composition doll above has the typical round "Michael Lee" tag with "Micale" printed on it, "Made in Hong Kong," and the Chinese Character doll's name - in this case "Sonny." The museum photo of Mr. Lee can be found at the following blog LEE PHOTO (as well as a nice picture of some of his composition dolls). The previously mentioned "Dollmaker" article also includes a photo of Mr. Lee.

I believe the following photos also show Michael Lee composition dolls (a mother & child) as seen in a picture from the Mint Museum.

I am adding a picture of a more recent Michael Lee cloth doll. She carries a baby on her back.

Addendum: An article in the "South China Morning Post "of November 15, 1996; reports that Mr. Lee passed away on November 10, 1996.

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