Philadelphia Art Alliance Blog

Dona Dalton: Serious Fun

Philadelphia-based artist Dona Dalton makes serious toys. Her hand-crafted wooden objects blur the line between toys and sculpture, and ask us to take play seriously. These hand-painted pieces have the charm of old-fashioned wooden toys, whimsical animals on wheels, with articulable limbs. Dalton works with pine and poplar wood, using a bandsaw, a sander, a rotary carver, and a drill. The child-like naiveté of her work is combined with close observation and careful depiction of animals, as well as unusual imagery drawn from Egyptian mythology. Dalton has written that her goal is “to capture the gesture, personality, and something of the spirit” of the creatures she carves, transforming them into animate “companions” for your home or office space. Come by the Art Alliance’s pop-up shop, Geppetto, and find your own carved wooden companion!


Kingfishers: Cerebus Dwarf, American Pygmy, Ruddy, Malachite. From the artist’s website.



Many of Dalton’s pieces are inspired by the close observation of animal behavior, including her series of birds. Each bird seems full of life and personality, conveyed by subtle details of body language. Brilliantly colored kingfishers perched on painted wheels seem to converse, their long beaks extended eagerly to chat with their fellows. The subtle carving of their bodies suggests feathers, catching the light and appearing to flutter. Plump Carolina wrens huddle together conspiratorially, their ruddy coloring contrasting to the brilliantly colored wheels. Their unlikely wheels ground Dalton’s birds, transforming them into humorous hybrids similar to those found in the pages of medieval manuscripts.


Carolina Wrens. From the artist’s website.

Some of Dalton’s work is inspired by her study of Egyptian mythology. Dalton depicts gods and goddesses from the Egyptian pantheon, such as Horus, Seth, and Anubis, in the flattened, two-dimensional manner characteristic of Egyptian art, but they all sport unlikely wheels. In addition to single pieces, Dalton also makes ensembles, rather like dollhouses. In her piece, Things To Do, that most Egyptian of buildings, the pyramid, is transformed into a funerary dollhouse, complete with everything needed for the afterlife, including food, furniture, servants and, of course, the mummy itself.


Things to Do Pyramid. From the artist’s website.


The Art Alliance is pleased to present Dona Dalton’s work as part of its holiday pop-up market, Geppetto. Geppetto will be open Tuesday through Sunday, 12 to 7 pm from December 10, 2015, to January 3, 2016. Please note that the Art Alliance is closed on Mondays.

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