About LaVonne Sallee
I was born in Roswell, New Mexico on January 18, 1946. From birth to the age of 25 I lived in 35 apartments, houses, and trailers in 4 states and went to nine schools. My mother was a waitress and a seamstress. My father was an artist. He was working as a cartoonist for Walt Disney at the time he married my mother. My parents were divorced when I was four years old. My mother had two more daughters in a second marriage that lasted a couple of years. At the end of that marriage my stepfather deserted the family and stole the two girls. A search for the girls lead us to San Francisco where we found them five years later.
Growing up, I showed creative and artistic abilities but was discouraged in regard to making art a profession. At that time, in the ’60s, being an artist was thought to be reserved for hippies, bohemians, and people who were not serious about financial security and did not have their priorities in order. I was taught that what other people expected of me, thought of me and felt about me was more important then what I thought and felt about myself or what I wanted for myself, so I did all the things I thought would gain the approval of those I wanted to impress. Most of my career was for a large banking corporation and for most of those years I was a Bank Fraud Investigator. The people I cared about seemed to be impressed with my success. I’d made it to a high-ranking position in the Bank and made good money even though I had flunked the 10th and the 11th grades of High School.
I owned my own home and car, a couple of TVs, and I had all the clothes, shoes and earrings any woman needed. In the eyes of the community, society, family, and friends I had all the things that were supposed to make me HAPPY. But I was not happy.
Around the age of 47 I began to develop a chronic pain condition called Fibromyalgia (as if going through menopause would not be uncomfortable enough). The condition is aggravated by repetitious movement and by the age of 55 I went on permanent disability.
In August 2006, walking down Market Street in San Francisco I saw some altered barbie doll pieces in the window of the Market Street art gallery and stopped to look. I had never seen this artwork before. I loved it, loved it, and loved it. The altered barbies were a very different kind of Art. It was entertaining and humorous and I was inspired to create some of my own to keep that good feeling going. I have no particular connection with Barbie. I did not have one when I was a kid and had no desire for one.
I started shopping within days. I shop at thrift stores, flea markets and garage sales to purchase used Barbies (and other similar fashion dolls ) and props to create these pieces. I like the idea of making art out of recycled stuff. I am not affiliated with any of the doll makers or the makers of the props or accessories I put in my pieces. I use these objects as my canvas.
All of my life I searched for something to create or produce that would make me feel fulfilled. Well, I “produced” three children, two boys (now 31 and 41) and a daughter (now 34) and they produced 3 children so far. That fulfills me and now my children are grown and on their own.
I think the reasons doing altered barbies is so much more fulfilling than any other technique or project I’ve done before is that Barbie gives me the opportunity to express all the sides of myself and to poke fun at or criticize others in a humorous way. And as a bonus, 75% to 90% of my materials are second or third hand or recycled.
These days, the pieces I make are usually bare chested so that I can give them nipples. Poor Barbie. How can she carry on her race if she has no nipples? Now when I create a piece, they seem more alive and Barbie tells me she is much happier as she feels “normal” with her beautiful nipples.
By the end of 2009 I had created over 250 pieces. A series of serendipitous situations lead me to Vallejo California, where I found a live and work space in Old Town. Here, the artist community is growing by leaps and bounds and I opened my own gallery doors in January 2009. At the age of 63 I am at the beginning of a new life. It is very exciting.
My studio and gallery are located at:OOAK Barbies 310 Georgia Street Vallejo, CA 94590
Gallery hours are Saturday and Sunday 10am to 4pm, and Monday through Friday by appointment. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an appointment.
You can read more about me here on Wikipedia.