www.etsy.com/shop/BibasGift Dollmaker Eagle, Idaho
RICHAE A. SWANBECK
WHEN BIBA MBENZA-NGOMA was a child, she and her friends played with white-skinned
European dolls, the only kind available in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “We loved these dolls,
but in our hearts, we wanted to play with dolls that looked like us,” says Mbenza-Ngoma. Working
with black and brown scraps of whatever leftover fabric they could find, she and her friends made
dolls that they stored in shoe boxes under their beds and treasured.
Now, 40 years later, Mbenza-Ngoma makes an array of dark-skinned dolls that she sells at craft
shows and online. The dolls are between 14 and 16 inches tall, and are dressed in African fabrics that
are peacock blue, persimmon orange, jade green and other vibrant colors. Biba’s Gift, as her collection
is known, includes male and female dolls, dancing dolls and dolls that are part of a family (customers
can order them in groups to match their own families or to represent particular familial relationships).
Between her youthful hobby and her current business lay a journey of many miles. Before
settling down in Idaho (for a marriage that has since ended), Mbenza-Ngoma lived in Belgium and
Massachusetts. After her three children were born, she began making dolls for them—and didn’t
stop. “Doll-making became my therapy,” she says. In 2010, she brought her collection to share with
her son’s fourth-grade class. The students, boys and girls alike, were so delighted that she found
herself besieged with requests for dolls, which she happily fulfilled—free.
Since then, Mbenza-Ngoma has become much more practical. She sells her dolls, each of
which takes her between 10 and 25 hours to create, for about $35 for a single doll to $180 for
a group of dolls. Making them, however, is about more than business. “My greatest joy is seeing
people’s reactions when they see my dolls. [It’s] usually laughter, but sometimes silence, because
the dolls stir up memories,” she says. “That’s why I call my collection Biba’s Gift: The dolls are a
gift to them, and a gift to me.”—FS
DAVID LUBARSK Y
Wonders of wood
FRANK COPPOLA TOILED and tinkered in his TV repair shop for 25 years.
When he retired at age 62, “I had to keep myself doing something,” he says.
He decided to spend more time doing carpentry, a hobby he’d
always enjoyed in his spare time. Coppola battled many health issues,
including cancer and several heart operations, but never let his health
get in the way of doing what he loved to do.
“I did heavier stuff before, like gazebos, bars, fireplace mantels,
stuff like that,” he recalls. “But I had to tone down because, age-wise,
I couldn’t pick up heavy stuff. I didn’t want my health to interfere with
what I want to do, so I do smaller stuff.”
He found enjoyment and creative fulfillment in building birdhouses
and mailboxes fashioned after real houses.
It started as a hobby, then shifted into a business. “My daughter got
me involved with Etsy,” Coppola says. “That’s a fantastic site. Anything
you really want, you can go on Etsy and you can find stuff homemade.”
Orders came in from all over, but, interestingly, not so much locally.
“[In] New York, Staten Island is a hard sell,” Coppola remarks. “Who
wants stuff homemade? They’d rather go to the stores and buy it. I get
more orders from [Seattle], Connecticut, Vermont. I get more orders from
places like that than from New York.”
Coppola is mostly self-taught. He had to leave high school to go to
work to help his family, and served in the Army in Korea. Last spring,
the New York State Department of Veterans Affairs awarded him, and
several other veterans around his age, their high school diplomas.
He then enrolled in college drawing classes for fun and to further
develop his art skills.
Coppola spends about 20 hours a week at his craft and
says, “I try to keep myself involved. More older fellers should
get involved and enjoy what they’re doing.”
When told that Connection readers often follow up on
stories, he says, “So you may bring me more business?
Fantastic! I’ll get the machine oiled up.”—Steve Fisher
Staten Island, New York
MARCH 2013 ;e Costco Connection 35