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Step into Edna Tkachuk’s Brownsburg home and you’ll be greeted by a mannequin dressed in a proper hat and Victorian dress, a vintage baby doll in her crib and dozens more “friends” at every turn.

“Come back here, she’s a character, she’s very funny, do you want to meet her?” asks Tkachuk, referring to a life-size doll named Florence that’s smoking a cigarette while eating a plate full of faux spaghetti at the dining room table.

The “lady” is just one of Tkachuk’s elaborate and whimsical creations, a form of art known as soft sculpture or soft needle. She shapes the “dolls” out of a flexible wire base and then sculpts their faces and bodies out of nylon Pantyhose.

She’s been doing it for decades and loves a good character just as much as the craft itself.

“I want them to be warm and friendly and tell a story and so when you see one, well, people laugh and it occurs to them what this doll is thinking,” explains Tkachuk.

“I make my own faces and they have different expressions. I actually like to make them up. I have a lot of fun and I think about the person I’m going to create.”

Like Gladice, a busty woman with a zest for life—and pink— living out retirement in Florida.

“This is definitely a snowbird because a Floridian wouldn’t be dressed in all this Flamingo stuff,” laughs Tkachuk about her doll.

“Her nickname is sugar butt…is that offensive? I don’t know.”

Her dolls were once a business, now a hobby. She’s made hundreds of them. The retired nurse and grandmother of six—who won’t reveal her exact age—has sold and shown pieces through the years at art shows across the country. She still has her creations on display in Cincinnati and The Mariette Museum of Art & Whimsy in Sarasota, Florida. The sculptures range in size from six inches to six feet and can retail around $250.

While she doesn’t do art shows anymore, the longtime Hendricks County resident has never stopped creating. Come holiday season, her star character is, of course, Jolly Saint Nick. You can find her “soft” large Santas at the Gallery on the Square in Downtown Danville.

“I think about the old Coco-Cola Santa when I make him and I try to capture his twinkle, I try to do that.”

The sitting Santas, much like her other characters, are complete with distinct cartoon-like faces, handmade clothes and life-like wigs. Santa touts his signature red suit and a potato-sack bag topped with real toys.

“I like to buy some trains, some little toys. It’s just fun,” she says.

She makes a traditional “mall” Santa but also does a more reserved Victorian version. This week, she’s up late at the sewing machine parked temporarily in her living room, crafting a new batch for Frazee Gardens in Brownsburg.

“When I make the Santas, I feel that warm, friendly joy and cheerful Christmas spirit,” said Tkachuk.

The sculptures are always time-consuming and can be costly to make.

“Oh wow, it’s expensive, even the Pantyhose costs. But I do it for fun now.”

While she doesn’t mass produce dolls, they still have a niche clientele that leads to a sale here and there.  She shares a picture of two happy women from a past Christmas leaving her house with their new Santas in tow, carrying them out like large toddlers.

“There are people that collect them. I had a man buy his wife a Santa for Christmas and then I would hear from him every year to get more,” she recalls.

“I do it in the day. I do it in the night. I’m a stay-up-late person.”

Tkachuk started making dolls and “creating” stories at a young age, inspired by her Nana.

“I was the first grandchild and My Nana just adored me,” she said. “She always told me creative stories, (like) floating on a banana into Coca-Cola. So that’s where the creativity came from.”

Decades later, she has plenty to show for it. Her house is chock-full of collections and creations, each with a story. There’s a  doll in a chair above her television set and plenty of “dinner guests” in the dining room. And through the years, there have been plenty of extra “parts” lying around.

“I had these heads on this sheet once and my father-in-law thought they were cookies,” she laughs.

Whether it’s the man in red or a flamboyant retiree, they all have a little of her in them and a lot of personality.

“It is exhausting until it is done. It’s good for me. It’s like therapy”

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