A tribute to the man who proved we're never too old to play dress up
Credit: Tom Tierney/Dover Publications, Inc.

Tom Tierney, the man credited with bringing paper dolls back to life in a time of TV sitcoms and Barbies, passed away on July 12.

Tierney’s niece says the 85-year-old succumbed to his battle with lung cancer, reports The New York Times. Along with his family, Tierney is survived by the hundreds of paper doll books he produced in his lifetime and the memories they created for children around the world.

According to Dover Publications, the former fashion illustrator, who moved to New York City from Texas to work in advertising, created his first paper doll book as a gift to his mother. The present featured depictions of her favorite screen stars, from Clark Gable to Jean Harlow. Tierney’s mother happened to show the book to a friend who was a literary agent and from there the man’s career in “doll-making” was born.

Starting in the late ’70s, Tierney’s books were competing with color TV, superhero action figures and elaborate toys for attention from kids. Thanks to his colorful, detailed drawings and dedication to providing well-researched facts to go along with all of his dolls, Tierney’s creations caught on.

For the next three decades, Tierney delighted not just children, but adults as well, with his impressive array of paper dolls. From Ancient Egypt to drag queens, Gwyneth Paltrow to the Pope, no topic or time period was off limits for this illustrator’s talents.

In his career, Tierney produced more than 400 paper doll books, many of them published by Dover Publications. With the company, he sold more than four million copies of his works, reaching paper doll lovers across the globe. Tierney told Dover that one of his Pope paper doll books even made it into the hands of Pope John Paul II himself, after a tourist presented his Holiness with a copy of the publication.

Thanks to Tierney’s dedication to art, integrity and fun paper dolls, the art form – which first started in 18th-century France – experienced a renaissance that is still thriving to this day.

“I don’t mean to boast, but I’m rather proud of having made them into something more than just kids’ stuff. My books can be a way to discover things that you weren’t taught in school,” Tierney once told Dover. “And I like to think that they bring their subjects to life for readers, just the way they do for me when I work on them.”

While his books and their lessons continue to circulate throughout the world, the man behind these beautiful creations will be dearly missed.

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