Celeste Hanlon sits in her Eastham studio surrounded by vintage Christmas ornaments and boxes of Barbies from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s — most missing those fabulous fashions Barbie collected so voraciously.
Hanlon grew up in New York City, where her mother owned the vintage clothing store, O Mistress Mine, in Greenwich Village for 40 years. “Being around all that made a huge impression on me,” she says. “I love old creepy dolls and vintage toys.”
Hanlon taught arts and crafts to kindergartners at a Quaker school in Philadelphia for nearly 20 years before she moved to Eastham. She had been visiting the Cape since the 1980s, but in 2016, she came to stay and to care for her now 88-year-old father. Just for fun, she started going to estate sales. At one she came across a huge lot of vintage dolls.
“Someone had stored thousands in an attic,” she says. She bought them and set about reselling them online. But she learned that many doll collectors are obsessively meticulous. “If there are any imperfections, they’re not interested,” she says. “To me, the more imperfections a doll or toy has, the more beautiful it is.”
Hanlon, who has an M.F.A. in sculpture and uses recycled items in her art, began to play with the dolls in her studio. “One day I picked up a Barbie, took off her head, and put it on a vintage Christmas ornament,” Hanlon remembers. The result made her laugh out loud. And it put her on the path to making Christmas decorations — a path she now takes every December.
Besides attaching Barbies and other vintage toys to ornaments, Hanlon fastens them to wire wreaths that she has wrapped in tinsel or glues them to store-bought fake fir or pine ones. She sands the surfaces she’ll be gluing together for a more stable hold. She’s after balance, she says, both in terms of weight and visual elements.
Hanlon now makes dozens of wreaths and ornaments, which she sells at the holiday craft market at the Canteen in Provincetown. “I put on my Charlie Brown Christmas album to get into the mood,” she says — though most of her creations veer toward adult humor.
During the year, she scours estate sales and thrift stores for vintage dolls, toys, and ornaments, many of which are rare and can be valuable. But it’s not a collector’s perfection she’s after. Instead, she looks for bright colors, which she loves. And inclusiveness, she adds, pointing to a bear-themed wreath featuring a pair of Ken dolls.