Ms. Tisha, the Chocolate Angel, lovingly hand-made by Adrienne McDonald, bears a serene countenance upon her embroidered face; her raw wool hair, muslin skin, lace apron and cotton dress all stained with coffee, the artist’s favorite dyestuff. Even the gloss on the buttons festooning the quilted wings is tempered by a coffee dousing. On May 2, 29 days after Adrienne posted this image to her Etsy site with the headline, Art Angel, she became one.
Adrienne Annette McDonald, born in Atlanta on January 5, 1962 was raised in Washington, DC, where she began her arts journey in high school, studying fashion design at the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts. She attended college at the Art Institute of Chicago (majoring in textile design) where she along with fellow students launched Gallerie Garb.
Upon graduation she relocated to New York with dreams of creating clothing for entertainers. Those dreams were realized with work done for Maya Angelou, Bill Cosby, Judith Jamison and Prince. A 1990 Hanes advertisement shot by photographer Matthew Rolston features an iconic image of dance legend Jamison in Adrienne’s dramatic portrait-collar jacket.
When she began collaborating on theatrical productions, Adrienne would create miniature costumes rather than sketch out her ideas. The fanciful miniatures she dubbed “Urban Faeries,” soon were collected and exhibited as works of art. She continued to put her fashion design skills to work on a diminutive scale by launching a collection of entirely hand-made dolls which took on the Urban Faeries moniker.
Though she’d explored several arts mediums, including glass blowing, she truly found her creative voice making dolls. She delighted in the magical and she could share her wondrous sense of whimsy through the “lives” of her creations. She tagged each doll with a hand-written note bearing the name she’d given it and sometimes an artist’s statement such as, “Inspired by decadent, whimsical, downtown New Yorkers, Urban Faeries are created from found objects and discarded clothing. One often thinks of faeries in the woods but they also dance among the city streets.” Cowrie shells, rusted safety pins and bobbins, even light bulbs found their way into her work.
from the collection of Cassandra Williams-Rush
She found inspiration not only in New York, but wherever she went. She came full circle and returned to the Nation’s capital, where she lived in recent years until her passing. The faceless Urban Faeries evolved into RawShuga Primitives, dolls with Adrienne’s signature patchwork, coffee stains, burned edges and funky soul, but with simple faces, partly drawn, partly stitched that bridged her unique style with the simplistic folk dolls of those outsider artists who’ve gone before her.
Her collectors are legion and I am proud to be one of them. I treasure my five very different dolls; a gorgeous grey, sunset orange and spring green-dyed, crinkled silk shirt she gifted me with as well as a beautiful tea-dyed silk scarf with a hand-embroidered organza panel that allows a glimpse at the treasures Adrienne tucked inside: cowrie shells, beads, pieces of crystal and fragrant chunks of frankincense resin–a veritable mojo bag I’ll cherish always.
Adrienne’s eyes had an enchanted sparkle seldom seen in anyone past the age of five. The welcome page of her Etsy.com shop sums up the source of her enchantment. “Welcome to Rawshuga, where everything is made by hand…Creating magic is my goal. Rawshuga is my gift to the world and I feel blessed to share it.”
The Adrienne A. McDonald Memorial Fund has been established at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church. Donations can be mailed to 3601 Alabama Avenue SE Washington, DC 20020.