Susanna Mkrtchyan learned doll making from her neighbor—a woman originally from Kars, who made traditional dolls to entertain children following her ancestors’ traditions. By tightening two crossed sticks together, stuffing the wrapped-up cloth with cotton, and using a coin for the head and wool to imitate the hair, the results were a very simple doll. But for Susanna, whose large family could not afford to buy toys or even clothes, these simple dolls not only provided entertainment, but also fostered a love for dressmaking.
Now director of the Children’s Aesthetic Center in Gyumri, Susanna still makes simple dolls—but she also teaches classes on doll making that highlight the ritual roles of dolls in Armenian culture: to protect, punish, tell the future, and serve as an “interlocutor.” During the activity, Susanna explains why the traditional Armenian home has numerous dolls—each with its own image, and each made from different materials, such as cloth, thread, dough, clay, wood, metal, wool, or even household items like a broom or a spade. The dolls became family relics, as girls and women passed them from generation to generation.
In her classes, Susanna encourages you to dress up your handmade dolls, possibly in aspects of the national costume, and to take home your dolls as mementos of traditional Armenian culture. You may also wish to take one of Susanna’s cooking classes, which combine Western Armenian and Turkish foodways to create a localized Gyumri cuisine.
Meet your host
Professor Susanna Mkrtchyan founded the Gyumri Aesthetics Center in order to preserve traditional Armenian values. Located on one of the oldest streets around Gyumri’s historical central square, the Center initially occupied the kolkhoz shop that sold the fruits and vegetables of collective farmers. Further expansions and renovations followed—particularly after the devastating earthquake of 1988. Gyumri Aesthetics Center is a place that fosters creativity, artistic self-expression, and art therapy to thousands of children, ages three to eighteen. The arts and crafts taught there include painting, dancing, singing, embroidery, rug and carpet weaving, crocheting, lacemaking, national costumes, doll-making, and traditional Armenian cuisine.