While meeting over a beer at Leslie’s childhood home several years ago, the conversation circled around future goals, a need for change and travel. The idea of a trip to the UK to attend a class on the obscure decorative art of Verre Eglomise emerged. Although both Stephanie Mesner and Leslie Keats, principals of Princess Doraldina Designs, are commercial artists, glass gilding had never been a skill that either of them deemed necessary for their careers. Nonetheless, 3 months later, off they went to West Dean College in West Sussex, England. This was the incubation period of a brilliant collaboration: Princess Doraldina Designs.
Truly though, their collaboration began much earlier as childhood friends. Their families spent vacations together at Hampton Beach NH, fun mecca of the east coast. A dilapidated rented cottage that comfortably slept up to 6 people became home for 11 or more family members and tag-alongs. Two fantastic weeks of sleeping on porches and beach slumming was the highlight of their summers. The boardwalk was full of seedy arcades, where skeeball, pinball and fried dough stands all lived together in loud company. But it was Princess Doraldina, the mechanical gypsy fortune teller at their favorite arcade who captured their hearts. She forever endeared them to cheesy melodrama, especially of the seaside-tacky variety. For 25 cents, Doraldina would come to life. She would gaze down at her crystal ball, her hand would hover over her divination table, and out would pop a card with a prophetic message written in rhyme.
Stephanie and Leslie have spent much of their lives entertaining each other by exchanging absurd holiday gifts and strange assemblages. One involved a smashed TV sculpture, another, hand-sewn baby clothes that might fit a Barbie Doll, and another a mobile made of kids’ toy food packages, spanning 3′ wide.
Career paths have led them both into the visual arts. Leslie has a degree in textile design from RISD, and is an artist and designer. Stephanie has a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and is a decorative artist and co-owner of Arteriors Surface Designs. They live on the country’s east and west coasts — Leslie in San Francisco and Stephanie outside of Boston. Stephanie scours mega-flea markets for quirky objets d’art and when Leslie isn’t designing, she reads nautical tales of pirates and gallant captains, the best of which are set on a frigate.
So, during a blustery ten days of touring Brighton and Cornwall, and taking a course in the traditional methods of glass gilding, it occurred to them that what they really should do is design textiles together that express their love of beachside penny arcade culture. As if Princess Doraldina handed them a Pass GO card, the adventure began.