2007-11-01 / Front Page

Roscommon woman's creation plays role in 'Gone Baby Gone'

By Glenn Schicker

Charlton Heston, famous for his larger-than-life roles, may be the most famous movie personality with Roscommon County roots, but Thelma, at a diminutive 16 inches tall, is the latest character from here to make it to the silver screen.

Karen Challender (above), Karen Challender (above), Thelma is a doll created by Roscommon artisan Karen Challender. She plays a pivotal role in "Gone Baby Gone," Ben Affleck's directorial debut, which premiered in October.

Challender said Jeffrey Johnson, prop master for the film, was searching the Internet in the summer of 2005 for a doll that would fit into the movie's story line when he found Challender's web site, karenskottage.com. He favored blonde-haired, blue-eyed Thelma, whom Challender had named for her late grandmother, on whose birthday the original doll had been completed.

"Dolls normally take about two weeks to complete," Challender said, but since the movie makers needed this one quickly, "I worked non stop on her and had her ready to ship within 24 hours."

Johnson phoned to tell Challender the doll was just right, but looked too big next to the little girl she belonged to in the movie. He said Affleck would like Thelma shortened from 21 to 16 inches.

Thelma (below) Thelma (below) "Within a couple of hours, I had a doll body done and stuffed," Challender said. After Johnson emailed his approval, "I worked non-stop again and shipped her out the next morning." The film makers then told Challender they needed three more identical dolls, which she produced in a couple more non-stop days. Challender normally uses ready-made "preemie" clothes for her 21-inch dolls, but ended up creating her own pink sleeper for 16-inch Thelma.

Challender cautions that "Gone Baby Gone" is not a children's movie. "It's a drama about a little girl who disappears and two detectives who are determined to find her," Challender said. "She's a little girl who isn't cared for well at all by her single mother, who is into drugs and very unfit as a mother. The only thing the little girl has in her world is her doll, who is very important to her...After the little girl disappears without a trace, the doll is eventually found and is used in the investigation to try to figure out what happened to this little girl. According to my son, who's seen the movie, the doll is shown in the movie only briefly in the beginning, but towards the middle, the doll is found and becomes a big part of the investigation."

Challender began making dolls resembling her children as gifts for them in the early 1980's. She made more for craft shows and consignment sales, but her employment kept her too busy to go further until 2001, when she decided she'd had enough of the corporate world. She quit her job, started cleaning three days a week and spent the rest of her time painting and crafting. She established a web site, hoping to sell her oil paintings, but discovered dolls sold better.

Sixteen-inch Thelma and Her Friends and other dolls of that size have been added to Challender's web site, where oil paintings, candles, cat lovers' accessories and other items also are available.

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