Hello Everyone I would like share with you the next profile in the From Childhood To Sasha series featuring the lovely Cassandra
(Above a photo of Cassandra)
My full name is Cassandra Tasmin Cooper, or at least it was for the first 20 years – then I became Rogers and later Keefer…..but we’ll get to that!
My Paternal grandparents met and lived in London although they arrived there from very different backgrounds. My Grandfather had moved to London from the States to finish his medical degree having started it at John’s Hopkins, quite an achievement for the youngest in a large family of immigrants. His parents had moved to New Jersey from the Ukraine and started a ship salvage business where all 5 of their sons worked when they weren’t collecting clams to sell along the Jersey Shore. I only recently discovered that he was born with the last name Levine but when he moved to England he changed it legally to Cooper.
In contrast my Grandmother’s family were Norfolk farmers, related to a character known as the ‘Norfolk Giant’ who was a staggering 7 feet 8 inches tall and by all accounts a very unpleasant man. Prior to meeting my Grandfather she worked for a publishing house in London where her job was to interpret the handwritten and often rather illegible manuscripts that came in and type them out. When she and my grandfather, now Dr. Cooper, married they lived in Highgate Village and had 3 children, my Father Glenn being the middle child. My Granny Clare was an amazing seamstress and could sit down with a yard or so of fabric and get up a couple of hours later with a perfectly tailored button-down shirt without ever using a pattern, she also made my Aunt many dolls clothes – a tradition that my Father continued, sending them home to his little sister from boarding school, luckily he was also captain of the boxing club so no-one dared comment!!
(Above, my father’s parents with me on Hampstead Heath)
My Mother’s family were Swiss and Ukrainian on her Father’s side – His mother Matushka was of very aristocratic descent and met his Swiss Father while she was visiting Paris with her governess to purchase her trousseau to marry a Russian Prince. She was also related to Leo Tolstoy and would spend summers with cousin Leo when she was a child. Things went south when she eloped and married Maurice, leaving her prince high and dry, she was subsequently given the family’s silver samovar as a wedding present and then promptly disowned and cut off from her inheritance.
My Maternal Grandmother was born and grew up in Shanghai where her father Sir Herbert Phillips was the last British Consul General. As a result many of our family heirlooms are Chinese, including some incredible ceramics gifted to my great grandfather by the last emperor of China. My Grandmother moved back to England as a young woman and met and married my Grandpa Peter Bezencenet (try saying that 3 times fast) who was a dashing squadron leader, flying spitfires and hurricanes. After the war they moved to Buckinghamshire, my Grandpa then working as an editor and director at Pinewood Studios, and raised 4 children – my mother Karen being the oldest.
(Above, my mother’s parents on their wedding day)
By happy coincidence my parents’ families both took a holiday in Spain one summer, staying in the same guest house at the same time. The two of them met, only 16 and 18 respectively, and the rest is history – they stayed together until the end of my Mum’s life 15 years ago and my Dad has never found anyone to replace her. They were married in the Chelsea registry office and then moved into a small flat in West London after which my brother and I soon put in an appearance, Oliver in 1973 and me 15 months later in 74.
(Above, my parents)
(Above, me as a baby)
Four years later my parents sank every penny they had into a Victorian house in Notting Hill, there was no roof, no electricity and a completely insane and usually drunk “sitting tenant” in the basement – he came with the house and stayed for almost a decade. It took my parents almost 15 years to finish renovating the house and there were many years of “camping” on various floors of the house while other areas were under repair, but what I remember most of those years is our house always being full of family and music. My brother and I had so much freedom – running wild in the communal garden which was basically a park completely enclosed by houses on all 4 sides. We would be gone for hours only turning up at home when hunger or exhaustion got the better of us. In those days we would walk to and from school, half an hour or more in central London at maybe 8 years old – we were deliciously autonomous from a very young age.
(Above, my family in front of our crumbling house in 1978)
Although I was usually too busy playing outside and we were mostly too broke for toys I can remember having one particular kewpie doll, I don’t remember where it came from but it was always naked and I would stuff it up my jumper or pyjama top and pretend I was pregnant! I was also fascinated by her starfish hands and in the above photo you can just see me clutching the kewpie while at the same time mimicking her hands at my brother, who is quite typically ignoring me!
I didn’t see a Sasha doll until I was 8 years old and my Mum had taken me to Tridias, a local toyshop, where she would let me loose a few weeks before my birthday so she could get ideas for my present. I had worked this out but then and knew to “oooo” and “aaaah” at whichever toy I liked best, but in this case I can remember standing completely silently and just staring at the Sasha dolls until my Mum led me away by the hand and categorically told me they were too expensive! A few weeks later on my 9th birthday while we were visiting my Grandparents in Whales I was given a single gift, it was the size a shape of a Sasha box but I was so afraid that it wasn’t what I was hoping for that I sat with the unwrapped present and refused to open it. After a LOT of reassurance I finally tore off the paper and found a brunette Sasha in a blue dress with tights and ballet shoes and never looked back!
(Above,not my childhood Sasha but a perfect illustration of the sculptural beauty of our dolls and why I love them)
My Granny Clare taught me to sew for my doll on an old hand trundle Singer, I still have the very first dress I made for that first Sasha. My Granny was also the reason behind a rather unfortunate haircut that Sasha received on the day I got her……..not fond of little girls having hair in their faces she had been brushing my doll’s fringe back so she could see her face better, and wanting to make her happy I asked my Mum to cut her fringe, the results were far from perfect but at the time I was very pleased with it.
The next year a blonde schoolboy joined Sasha and then the following year baby ginger, I became more proficient at sewing and I would spend hours at the kitchen table re-cycling my Dad’s shirts into doll dresses. My Dad was in corporate finance and flamboyant shirts were not considered appropriate so most of these dresses were plain blue or white with the occasional stripe thrown in for good measure. It was around this time that I found out that the factory in Stockport had closed down, I had phoned the number on the back of the catalogue to see if I could send my girl back to have her fringe re-rooted (by this point I had realized it was much too short) and was told by a security guard who happened to hear the phone ringing that they were no longer making the dolls.
In a panic I phoned Tridias, only to be told that they had put all the Sasha dolls and clothes on sale and they were already sold out, I phoned Hamleys and was told the same – finally Harrods toy department confirmed they still had some stock. I begged and pleaded with my parents to be allowed to use the small amount of money my Grandpa had left me the year before to go and buy some of the remaining dolls and clothes before they were gone for good. I can so clearly remember returning home with those two magnificent Harrods handle bags, containing a redheaded girl, a baby Rosie and 3 new outfits, I also remember my Mum whisking them out of my hands and telling me I couldn’t open them until I had tidied my bedroom. Turns out that she was right and opening those new dolls in my freshly cleaned room was infinitely more pleasing than doing so in the normal chaos I created.
So, that was it, or so I thought! I had my family of 5 dolls – one of each hair colour and I was content to sew for them, dress them and then hide them under my bed when friends came over. I was by this time 13 and at secondary school – as with most things my parents sacrificed a lot to send my brother and I to private school where without question I received an amazing education while at the same time learning there is nothing as cruel as over-privileged teenage girls!!
(Above, my school. I spent 7 years here, mostly wishing I was somewhere else but I adored my art and English teachers.)
Sasha dolls became my secret hobby and while my parents were tolerant of my interest they never really understood my fixation. My Mum told me stories of tying her dolls to trees and shooting at them with her bow and arrows but would sweetly try to feign interest as I talked about the minute details of eye painting, hair rooting and outfit variations. It always surprised me that considering her Swiss heritage and her art school and sculpting background that she didn’t see the appeal of the elegant simplicity of Sasha dolls. Although once in a while she’d surprise me with something perfect like a package of woven labels with ‘Sasha’ on them in my Christmas stocking, I still have some left and sew them into my dolls clothes to this day.
(Above, the labels from my Christmas stocking when I was 14 and a Sashapotamus coat with one of them sewn in.)
At 15 I met my first Sasha collector, Maddie at a doll show, she lived in Stockport – the same town as the Sasha factory and was the first adult I had ever met that still had dolls and was completely unapologetic about it to boot. This was the true beginning of collecting for me and when she introduced me to Julian a couple of months later I finally had people to share my interest with who felt the same way rather than just tolerating my obsession. We had such fun, and I still have the notebooks with all the lists of dolls we had, dolls we wanted and dolls we’d never even seen an example of. With no internet we were limited to meeting other collectors at doll shows which only happened once or twice a year and scouring magazines for information or for sale ads.
Then I went off to university, leaving my dolls behind and there was a bit of a break in my collecting! I was side-tracked by my degree in child psychology and even more so by Benji Rogers the long haired, goatee wearing musician that I met during my first year who I flew to meet on tour in San Francisco during my second year and eloped to Reno and married on a whim! I don’t know who was more surprised, me or my friends and family…..my parents recovered their initial shock admirably and threw us a wedding party. I was 20 years old, and in lots of ways still a little girl playing dress-up in my Grandmother’s amazing Chinese silk brocade gown brought back from her society days in Shanghai.
(Above , taken at my first wedding party, me wearing my grandmother’s dress)
We moved into a flat in Clapham, very close to Julian’s flat which was great and for the first time since I was 12 my Sasha dolls were proudly displayed on shelves. It was to this flat that Susanna Lewis came with Julian when she was visiting him. In those days I only had a handful of “interesting” Sasha dolls……My first NPs, Lolita my blonde girl purchased from a doll show before I even knew what an NP was, and then my 2 NP boys, a brunette first and then a redhead. These were both from Michael O’Brien who told me they would be “important” dolls to have and thankfully I listened, spending every penny I had from babysitting and saved allowance to add them to my small collection. They are still with me and have been joined by 3 more, it took me 25 years to complete the set!!
(Above, my magic 6 – it was the blond boy that took me to longest to find)
Then my new young husband dropped the bombshell, he wanted to move to Los Angeles to pursue his music career and so the flat was packed up and rented out, the dolls went back to my parents house now in the countryside near when my Mum grew up. Without any real comprehension that I would never come back to live in England again, we set off on our adventure and for a while Sasha dolls and sewing were replaced with watching other girls scream at my husband on stage at the Viper Room, The Whiskey A Go Go and the Roxy.
These were quite lonely years for me, I was often by myself and we had no money – the only furniture in our apartment was an old ironing board propped on 2 boxes for a table and a mattress on the floor. Benji would sleep all day and I would buy one coffee and sit for hours in coffee shops sculpting tiny characters out of polymer clay, I would try to make 4 out of each tiny package to save money and would carry the finished ones with me in a little cloth bag. One thing I learnt fast is that people are NOT shy in LA and they would come and talk to me while I sculpted, play with the bag of little heads and I was even interviewed for a small newspaper.
(Above, little heads, my coffee shop creations)
I had hoped to try and break into special effects sculpting and sent photos of some of my more fantastical pieces to the Jim Henson creature shop where I was granted an interview and put on the books as a freelance sculptor, but work wasn’t very forthcoming and I had to get resourceful to make ends meet. I made molds of my character series, cast them in resin and sold them in high end gift shops, and then when I realized that the silicon I was using to make my molds was food safe, I experimented with chocolate and even soap. These goodies were added to my offerings in local shops and caused quite a stir, I was contacted by the LA times and they ran an article on my chocolates. Life got interesting……I made chocolates for movie premiers, Whoopi Goldberg and Steven Spielberg among others and was invited on talk shows and even asked to be featured in my own episode on the food network (I declined that one, I hate being on camera!!)
(Above, some examples of my creatures)
(Above, some examples of chocolates and soap)
Somewhere during that time Benji and I had amicably parted ways and I met John Keefer – He, as some of you know, has been a great supporter of my by then re-discovered passion for doll collecting and some of you will recall the NP wrapped in foil he gave me at a restaurant for our 10th anniversary. I also entirely have him to thank for my 2 studio doll purchases around that time, without his support and encouragement I would never have taken the plunge.
(Above, john and I)
(Above, NP in foil)
(Above, studio girls, Amelie bought from a Swiss auction on the left and Molly, an early ebay purchase on the right)
We were married in England, on Valentines day with our friends and family this time, and within just over a month our first baby Jack was on the way but sadly six weeks into the pregnancy my Mum passed away and for the first time in my life I experienced true loss. Thankfully the impending arrival of our baby gave me something positive to focus on and I returned to LA to begin nesting in earnest.
(Above, Every time I left England to go back to LA my Mum and I took photo-booth pictures at the airport, this is my favourite.)
(Above, Jack on the left and Sam on the right – they are older now but I love this photo.)
After Jack was born I began making clothes for him and soon a new career path evolved and Jackapotamus, my line of organic hand printed baby clothes came into being. I very much learnt the apparel business on the fly but people seemed to like what I was doing and a few years later while 7 months pregnant with Sam I opened my store on Main St. Santa Monica. I managed to persuade my sewing contractor to make American Girl sized tee shirts for me and would print them to match the kids versions and sold matching sets. I would also throw doll parties in my store where kids could bring their dolls to dress up and have photos taken on the red carpet and visit the hair salon, even get temporary tattoos!
(Above, a photo of the inside and outside of my shop)
(Above, Flyer for one of my American girl events and the doll sized red carpet!)
Around this time I discovered our Sasha Morgenthaler Facebook Group and shortly after, while looking at the incredible clothing being made by some of the members I had an “ah-ha!!” moment and so with the next round of American doll shirts some smaller ones were made along with some tiny onesies. After initially struggling with the printing on such tiny garments I took a photo of a few, listed some in my new Sashapotamus shop on Etsy and posted a link on the Facebook page. I had no idea if other collectors would be interested in such contemporary offerings and was pleasantly surprised when the orders started to come in. Using my experience with children’s clothing production I soon added jeans, coats, shoes and other accessories into the mix and have settled into the pleasant notion of life coming full circle.
(Above, sashapotamus , this was the photo that I put on the FB page that started it all.)
Theresa asked which doll I would add to my collection if I could choose any doll, but honestly I feel very satisfied with the dolls I have already. My collecting has slowed to perhaps one doll every 2 or 3 years and while I expect I will add a few more early English dolls before I stop I don’t imagine I will ever buy another studio doll. While I appreciate them as the works of art they truly are their weight, size and value makes them a little intimidating. I agree with Julian in that these days I take more pleasure in rescuing waifs and giving them new life and I had a lot of fun sculpting new legs to make a couple of custom black toddlers and I definitely have a lot more fun with my dolls now that they’re out from under the bed and I have other people to share them with!
(Above, a few of my customized dolls…..lots of unfinished projects are still waiting for my attention.)
(Above, custom toddler, my two black ‘toddlers’ I sculpted their legs using polymer clay over wood.)
Last year with the help and support of Anne Votaw I approached the Morgenthaler Family in the hopes that they might grant me license to put Sasha back into production. I had hoped that my Swiss blood, sculpting and manufacture experience combined with a desire to honor the original intentions of Sasha Morgenthaler would make me a good candidate. Unfortunately they were initially more fixated on the fact that I had used the Sasha logo as the ‘O’ in Sashapotamus on my Etsy page. Thankfully after I removed it and explained it was done as a respectful nod to the doll’s creator rather than as any claim to the dolls on my part they seemed satisfied. However they ultimately explained that they felt Sasha was a special doll created by a special artist for a time that is now past. They will not license the dolls again. I was disappointed but I eventually plan to sculpt a doll of my own design and produce those instead, I can’t hope to make anything as timeless and enigmatic as Sasha but I look forward to having the time to see what I can come up with. For now most of my time is taken up with my amazing boys who adore each other, making Halloween costumes, school projects, kittens and work – I feel incredibly lucky that my work is doing something I love and that once in while I still have time to play with my dolls!
(Above, I have a deal with my boys that I will make them whatever they want to be for Halloween no matter what…..)
(Above, the latest additions to our family…….
Footnote: I would like to say a big Thank you to Cassandra for taking part In, the From Childhood to Sasha Series. Please do not copy or download any of Cassandra’s photos without her permission first.
Cassandra has a fabulous shop on Etsy here is the link if you would like to see more of her wonderful creations. https://www.etsy.com/shop/Sashapotamus
Thanks for looking ……………..