Making Paper

The latest black paper dolls are not child's play. They're about high art and the arc of black history.


Drawing the human figure fascinated him because he enjoyed the power of creating a person, the 58-year-old Jones told me. He eventually created a sophisticated style that led to masterful creations that elevated the form above mere child’s play to high art.

In March 2008, Jones was commissioned to draw the centerfold for Cornerstones‘ March 2008 issue, which publisher Deanna Williams devoted to the history of African-American paper dolls. He created a confident, ebony male in the buff, whose hands are strategically placed. Four outfits speak to his disparate histories and identities—a North African trader in robe and turban with rifle; ankle and wrist shackles, iron neck vise and whip; dashiki, jeans and Black Power salute with Afro wig and shades; and a black, power-broker business suit. The accompanying text reads: I’ve lived as long as I can remember. Slaver, slave. Slave to the rhetoric, slave to the man. It’s been a long, long journey. But here I am.”


Jones makes his living doing sketches and illustrations for viral advertising promotions; his clients include PlayStation, DreamWorks and AXE deodorant and cosmetics. It is in his spare time that he produces his exquisite paper dolls.

In 1996, he created a particularly striking Josephine Baker. With seven costumes based on her illustrious stage career Jones had aficionados oohing and aahing over the original Queen of Bling. He’s currently working on the first paper-doll book devoted entirely to Baker.

Among his more contemporary subjects is Tiger Woods, whom Jones has drawn in his trademark red Polo. In another outfit, Tiger raises the Masters’ trophy in a victory salute, and in yet another he can don a pair of fluffy tiger slippers. Another favorite is 2020, a futuristic rendering of a trendy black couple whose tattooed, Olympic-gold physiques and skintight gear, speak to a future where diminutive, sleek, fuel-efficient vehicles are the norm.

Like all toys, whether their intended audience is for an adult or child, paper dolls chronicle our social mores. On that score, Jones’ work shows that even paper dolls can be more than two-dimensional.

Arabella Grayson is a freelance writer and paper doll collector in California. Her touring collection of black paper dolls can be seen in the upcoming exhibition “Paper Cuts: Two Hundred Years of Black Paper Dolls,” which opens at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles in January 2009.