Not many people have heard of Morton Bartlett, a quiet Bostonian bachelor who had been an orphan till adulthood. Upon becoming an adult, Bartlett began to long for a family of his own. His solution to this desire: he would create them himself from plaster and paint.
The only book that I know of about this fascinating and reclusive man is Marion Harris’ Family Found: The Lifetime Obsession of Morton Bartlett. It is in this slim volume that showcases the family he created — a family of handmade dolls created by Morton himself, a man who was never trained in any way in the arts. His only instance of higher education was a stint at Harvard University where he would never graduate.
The book discusses a few intriguing anecdotes about the sameness of Bartlett’s day to day life as a bachelor in Boston. A local store owner mentioned his collection of newspaper and the fact that — without fail — he made a milkshake at noon and drank a sherry at five in the evening.
As with many self-taught artists, Bartlett’s obsessive doll creations were discovered upon his death in 1992. And in the years that followed not much happened from this discovery but a newspaper article in a local Boston paper about this riveting recluse.
His creations are truly amazing and profoundly poignant, each doll expressing palpable emotion.
As a poet, such a lush story affected me deeply. This man, Morton and his doll creations, his doll family, resulted in my writing several poems about the story. It also ended up inspiring work on a chapbook that will be available in December called, Sorry to See You Go. My poem about Morton is called, “The Lonely Bachelor.”
The Lonely Bachelor
Your room is small and warm like socks.
There should have been an invitation to a party
in your mailbox today, sitting there in wait
so that you could have the power
to throw it away.
But instead your wrists dance,
your veins moving musical
as you create the face of your little brunette.
She is cranky and sleepy.
You give her a voice and a genuine life.
And everyday at noon, walking the precarious paths
of newspapers in your room,
you went to the kitchen and made a milkshake,
and at 5:00, you had a sherry.
All of this, a predictable and peaceful voyage
within earshot of your brunettes.
But sometimes, I bet you went out to buy her a rose.
This is the kind of kind man you are.
I search for you now among my own obsessive piles,
desiring something lovely at noon and at 5:00.
copyright 2009 by Carrie McGath