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Poche's passion

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

RUSSELL -- He built the first two dolls for fun.

Now, 40 dolls and a year later, it's still fun. But it's also an all-consuming passion for Dustin Poche.

Poche puts his artistic touch to good use by creating boudoir dolls. Boudoir dolls were made from the 1920s to approximately the 1940s and were intended for adults, not children. Many of the dolls were done in an art deco style.

Poche's gallery debut, "Pandoras by Poche" started last weekend at Deines Cultural Center, where he had 40 dolls on display. It lasts through May 30, with dolls on display from 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.

A Pandora doll is different from a boudoir doll in Pandora dolls were from the 1700s. During that time period, French dressmakers would send Pandora dolls throughout Europe and abroad with designs of the latest gowns. Sort of like online shopping, 18th century-style.

"I call it 'Pandoras by Poche' because I'm following more in those footsteps, which is more authentic period costuming," Poche said of his gallery show.

There were both boudoir and Pandora dolls on display at Poche's gallery debut. He expected buyers for his dolls from Denver to New York at his opening last weekend. His pieces start at $400.

"I price them by the time I've spent on them, the materials that are in each piece," Poche said. "Everything is factored into it."

Poche typically works from early morning until past midnight in his garage workshop. The devil is in the details. A piece has to be just right to suit Poche.

"I don't do anything easy," he said with a laugh. "I like to do it the way it's supposed to be done."

It all starts with finding a doll -- or a doll's head -- that needs to be restored. That's where Poche's lifelong friend, Matt Driscoll, comes in. Driscoll, who likes to restore furniture, will get the doll ready for Poche, who can finish a piece in two to three weeks.

The first two pieces started out as a lark, after Driscoll found one doll head, then another.

"We started to look for them, and then it snowballed into this amazing project," Poche said.

Poche does any initial sculpting. Then Driscoll restores the doll for Poche's artistic touch.

"He gets them to a blank canvas, and then I take it from there," Poche said. "I paint, build the body, design the costume, design the hair.

"I use all natural fibers," he added. "I don't use synthetics. They wouldn't have had them."

Poche has a name for each doll. A doll in his living room is called "Victoria."

"While I'm working on them, they kind of tell me," their name, he said.

"They all have different expressions," Driscoll said. "You kind of find a name that fits. They each have their own character."

After pouring so much into each piece, parting is such sweet sorrow.

"Sad, relief," Poche said of how he feels after a piece is finished. "I love them all, for very different reasons. They all have their own set of challenges.

"But yeah, it's kind of sad when I'm done with each one," he added softly.

Poche wants the buyer to feel what he feels.

"I want you to be in love with it when you take it home," Poche said. "I want this to be special to you. It's not just a doll; it's a work of art."

Poche, 35, went to art school and lived in Denver for six years after graduating from Russell High School in 1997.

He then moved to New York, where he worked as a costume designer for 10 years before home beckoned him.

"The last couple years, I was like, 'I don't want to do the city anymore,' " Poche said. "Trust me, I did it all. I loved it, it was amazing. But Matt had moved back, and we've always wanted to do something together."

Russell is a good fit for Poche and Driscoll, in part because there are more opportunities to find dolls to restore.

"We love to go antiquing and flea markets and farm auctions. Can you be anywhere better for that?" Poche said.

Poche now can't imagine being anywhere but home. But the journey to find his niche in life helped him.

"Everything I've done -- costuming, I've done hair, I've done makeup, I've done windows, I've sewed, I've designed -- I've done it all," he said. "Every piece, I've used every bit of information I've learned."

His first doll piece he created in high school. Now he's in his hometown doing what he started years ago as a boy.

"I chose to do it here," Poche said. "I love this community, this is my hometown. And you have to leave to appreciate it."

It's as if Poche's journey has somehow led him back home.

"Yes, absolutely -- I almost teared up," Poche said with a laugh. "It was a long road."

But a road worth traveled. A road which led him back home, doing what he loves.

"I get to do this every day of my life," Poche said. "How many people get to say that?"