Morton Bartlett

1909 - 1992

  • untitled, 1943 - 1963, vintage gelatin silver print, 8 x 8 cm
  • ohne Titel, pencil on transparent paper, 43 x 35,5 cm
  • ohne Titel, pencil on transparent paper, 43 x 35,5 cm
  • ohne Titel, pencil on transparent paper, 43 x 35,5 cm

When Morton Bartlett died at the age of 83, relatives found 15 wooden boxes in his house in Boston, Massachusetts containing half-size dolls - twelve girls and three boys - with handsewn clothes, black-and-white photographs of the dolls as well as study and archival material.

Bartlett was born in 1909, in Chicago. At age eight he was orphaned and spent some time in an orphanage until a Boston couple adopted him. After graduating from high school, he studied fine arts at Harvard University where he dropped out of the program after two years in order to work as a freelance advertising photographer.
Health issues arising from working in the darkroom forced him to give up his profession.
Following service in the US Army in WWII, Bartlett became a publisher and established a design agency and printing business.
In 1936, Bartlett began to design dolls of children and teenagers between the ages of eight and sixteen. In order to render them as realistically as possible, he studied books on anatomy and the history of costume, and learned sewing and to modeling with clay. He was also interested in photographing his dolls, not as documentary images but rather in carefully staged scenes of various moments and real life situations. He worked with light and shadow, varying costumes and backdrops.

Bartlett remained unmarried throughout his life; his social contacts were very limited. As a result, his private universe remained unnoticed for a long time. In 1962, he allowed his goddaughter’s husband, a journalist, a glimpse into his realm. The only publication appearing in Bartlett’s lifetime, an article in Yankee Magazine, in 1962, caused a sensation. He seemed to have enjoyed the interest of some of the readers, who wrote to him. However, the magic that had fascinated him for over three decades had dropped away. Bartlett built custom-made wooden boxes for each doll, wrapped them carefully in newspapers from 1965 and stored them - together with their clothing, accessories, and photographs - in the back of his apartment. Until his death in 1992, he lived a quiet, inconspicuous life.