Northlandia: How a roadside Fairyland led to a museum of doll dioramas

After her family sold an Iron Range fairytale attraction, Faith Wick became a nationally known collectible doll artist. In a former Grand Rapids school room, her life's work lives on.

Doll figures of Pinocchio and Geppetto on display.
A doll diorama, featuring the fairytale characters Pinocchio and Geppetto, is on display at the Story Art and Museum in Grand Rapids on Monday, March 13.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

GRAND RAPIDS — Judy Garland was born here, but the Dorothy doll in a "Wizard of Oz" diorama at Story Art and Museum looks nothing like her.

"It's the story, instead of the MGM characters," explained Executive Director Heidi Wick. The museum's Dorothy, who's about the size of an American Girl doll, has details drawn from the 1900 L. Frank Baum book instead of the 1939 film adaptation.
"Dorothy has silver slippers," said Wick, "and she's got a kiss on her forehead from the good witch to protect her."

Artist Faith Wick, Heidi's mother, also made a set representing the movie characters, but those figures are currently in a private collection in Switzerland. "I'd love to have that set come back to Grand Rapids," said Heidi Wick.

Woman describes the doll figures displayed next to her.
Standing next to a "The Wizard of Oz" figure display, Heidi Wick explains March 13 how these figures made by her mother are based on the character descriptions in the book instead of the MGM movie.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

Story Art and Museum occupies two former schoolrooms in the Old Central School. A second-story corner classroom, formerly home to the Judy Garland Museum, now contains dozens of doll dioramas. The tables and shelves that hold the displays form a twisting path through the tightly packed space.

Walking through, you'll see a grotesque emperor modeling his nonexistent "new clothes" from the Hans Christian Andersen story. You'll see Hansel and Gretel, so pleased with their sweets that they're untroubled by the lurking witch. You'll see Rumpelstiltskin, Pippi Longstocking, the Three Bears, Little Boy Blue, Peter Pan, multiple different versions of Alice and numerous Wonderland characters.


Also — don't be scared — clowns. "Today, clowns are in movies and dolls are in movies and people make them scary," said Heidi Wick. "That didn't exist in Faith's time."

Old school building outside in winter.
The Story Art and Museum is located on the second floor of Old Central School, 10 NW Fifth St., Grand Rapids.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune
Doll figures of emperor and a child on display.
Figures based on the story "The Emperor's New Clothes" are displayed at the Story Art and Museum.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

Standing by a shelf of clowns, Wick pointed to figures based on specific characters. "Ruffles the Clown. He was a Ringling Brothers clown, and he's fantastic. This is Pom Pom the Clown. This one here is a clown with masks ... a thespian, they call him, a theater clown. And actually, if you look carefully, his face looks like Gerald Ford."

Yes, the post-Watergate president. "In 1976, I believe, Faith was a Minnesota Mother Artist of the Year," explained Heidi Wick, "and traveled with 50 other Mother Artists of the Year from every state and went to meet Gerald Ford at the White House. And so she made a doll (of) Gerald Ford. Afterwards, she made him into a clown."

Why a clown? "He had such antics!" said Heidi Wick. "He was known for falling over."

A one-woman industry

There's a lot to take in at Story Art and Museum, and like Alice's rabbit hole, the story of the collection just goes deeper and deeper the further you get into it.

White woman in her 90s smiles as she sits at a table playing letter-tile game.
Faith Wick enjoys a game of Bananagrams in June 2022.
Contributed / Heidi Wick

The story centers on Faith Wick, who made all the figures on display, along with many more held in collections around the world. She's now 92 years old and living in Cohasset. During a brief phone interview with the News Tribune, Faith Wick said about her body of work that she was "happy to have it there" in the museum run by her daughter.

At first glance, the collection may seem a small-town oddity, but at Faith Wick's peak, her work was a hot commodity. Posters hanging in the museum bear witness to her onetime celebrity among collectors. "Meet Faith Wick," reads an event advertisement bearing the Neiman-Marcus logo, "and see her magnificent collectible dolls featuring Alice in Wonderland, Mad Hatter and White Rabbit."

Woman describes doll figures of clowns on display.
Heidi Wick shows the clown figures made by her mother, Faith Wick, including a theater clown who looks like Gerald Ford.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

A 1986 book, "Faith Wick: Doll Maker Extraordinaire," chronicled the vast range of collectible dolls created by the artist. In the early '80s, limited-edition dolls by Faith's company, Wicket Originals, retailed for $300-$1,500 each, the equivalent of about $1,000-$5,000 today. Faith Wick traveled around the country promoting her wares, which she manufactured using a network of dozens of craftspeople working in their own shops.


Framed news paper article from 2001 on display.
A 2001 article in the Columbus Dispatch featuring artist Faith Wick is framed on the wall at the Story Art and Museum.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

When the artist arrived in a city where her dolls were being sold, wrote "Doll Maker Extraordinaire" author Helen Bullard, "the usual routine was a press party, followed by a special cocktail party for dignitaries. Then during the next two days would come the sales and autograph signing by Faith. She soon discovered that when she appeared in special costumes to create an effect, the sales were better."

The Teeny Weeny Miniature Cottage has been in Lincoln Park since 2014 and Duluth generally since the Halloween blizzard of 1991.

While Faith Wick's creations have included founding fathers (an advertisement for that doll series showed Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton in close conference), musicians (Scott Joplin, for one), artists (Grandma Moses, paintbrush in hand) and even an iron ore miner (like her husband, Mel), fairytales and classic stories were especially close to her heart.

Faith in Fairyland

Life-size display figures of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in a wooded area, with sign reading, "This beautiful princess dwells in Fairyland and takes care of the dwarfs, who think she is grand."
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs are displayed at Fairyland Park in Marble, Minn., around the time (1960-72) when the Wick family ran the roadside attraction.
Contributed / Tim Wick

Faith Fuller was born in Buhl. Her Finnish immigrant grandmother taught her how to sew, make patterns and dress dolls. The young woman studied education and became a kindergarten teacher, inviting her students' parents to a shower celebrating a new doll for the class. "The doll received many lovely gifts," read a newspaper report.

By 1960, Faith was married to Mel Wick, and the couple had four children. That year, they purchased a roadside attraction known as Fairyland Park in Marble, Minnesota. The creation of an enterprising woman named Myrtle M. Gustafson, Fairyland was a walk-through collection of over three dozen scenes from fairytales and history.

Faith Wick altered a sign that had previously advertised Fairyland as a collection of "oddities, freaks and antiques." She took her stories seriously, and set to work renovating the park. By the mid-1960s, several thousand visitors each summer were paying 50 cents each to gape at Mother Hubbard's giant shoe, "Three Porkies" (with a wolf hiding in the woods) and of course, a "Wizard of Oz" quartet.

Four life-size figures depicting the core characters from "The Wizard of Oz": the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, Dorothy and the Scarecrow.
Characters from "The Wizard of Oz" are displayed at Fairyland Park in Marble, Minn., in the 1960s.
Contributed / Tim Wick

The Wicks sold the anachronistic attraction in 1972. (Later owners removed the displays, and Heidi Wick doesn't believe any original Fairyland figures still exist.) The experience of running the park had energized Faith Wick — the figures she built or improved in her Fairyland workshop included a witch with glowing eyes, voiced by the artist herself with a little technological assist.

After selling the park and moving to Grand Rapids, "Faith started making the figures that were life-size (at Fairyland), smaller," said Heidi Wick. "And that started this new business. She was 45 years old when she started making dolls and traveling around the country."

Doll parts

Doll figures of a witch and the characters Hansel and Gretel are on display.
Figures of Hansel, Gretel and the witch from the classic story are displayed along with figures from other classic stories.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

At first, Heidi Wick explained, her mother used "the same process that was left to her from Myrtle Gustafson. It was a plasticine kind of clay, and then there would be a rubber mold made, and then a plaster head poured."


By the time Faith Wick turned to dolls in the 1970s, she had the benefit of polymer clay that, when baked, was much more durable. Molds from the original sculptures could be used to make porcelain or resin products such as doll heads, with embedded wire armatures to support the dolls' soft bodies.

Doll figures are displayed behind glass cases in a museum.
Many fairytale inspired dolls are displayed in glass cases at the Story Art and Museum in Grand Rapids.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

"Doll making was the most fascinating thing I had ever done," Faith Wick told Bullard. "It combined all the things I love to do: research, organization, creating, sculpting, costuming and painting, and later, organizing my own production operation and hitting the road to sell the dolls."

A piece of land next to Garland's childhood home was at risk of being lost to commercial development. "It was a shocker," the museum's executive director said about the $45,000 Superior Choice Credit Union donation that made the purchase possible.

Faith Wick's timing was propitious. An international market for handmade collectible dolls grew in the 1970s and '80s as nostalgic buyers sought display items with more character than the mass-market plastic dolls that had flooded stores in the postwar years.

The collectible doll boom laid the foundation for the phenomenal success of the American Girl brand (which Faith Wick loved, and collected), launched by Wisconsin's Pleasant Rowland in 1986. Dolls such as Faith's were enjoyed by children, but weren't affordable as ordinary playthings. In 1982, one buyer paid $100,000 for a complete collection of Wicket Originals.

Dolls on display

Woman unlocks display case with doll figure of a witch displayed.
Heidi Wick unlocks a display to show on the witch figures at the museum.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

The Wicks eventually moved to Florida, where they commissioned the first sets to display Faith's dolls in dioramas. Faith Wick's initial doll displays went up in a Florida gift shop, then moved with the couple to Ohio. Finally, in 2005, the displays were installed at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids — just one day after Garland's ruby slippers were stolen.

"What would Judy say?" Faith Wick said to a TV news reporter covering the story. "I don't think she'd like it."

The mystery of who stole the treasured "Wizard of Oz" ruby red slippers from Judy Garland's childhood home in 2005 consumed the town of Grand Rapids for more than a decade.

When the museum needed more children's play space in 2021, the dolls were returned to the Wicks. By that point, Heidi Wick and her husband were living in Grand Rapids, and Faith's daughter had a vision. She would combine the dolls from the Judy Garland Museum with figures from the family's personal collection and create a nonprofit organization in a space that would serve to both display the dioramas and host community events.

"We have music concerts, we have a Lego build, we've had (decorating) with candy, and just events where people can come in and share their stories," said Heidi Wick. "Our meeting space, we added in November." Groups including Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous meet at Story Art and Museum "and feel very welcome. They love our space."


You might ask, what motivated Faith to create this? Well, this is 5% of what she did. This is just a drop in the bucket. She did it because it was a healing for herself as well.
Heidi Wick

Heidi Wick, a musician and teacher who plays with groups including, on French horn, the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, learned multitasking from her mother. Faith Wick's own career as an educator continued while she ran Fairyland and launched her doll business.

Clown doll figure on display.
A clown figure displayed who Heidi Wick says her mother made to look like Gerald Ford.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

"I grew up at Fairyland," said Heidi Wick. "My name is Heidi. My mom is currently 92, and we've been sharing the story 'Heidi.' I'm so much like Heidi (the character): I just want to share and heal. ... There's so much in the story that we can use to travel here, travel there, share our pain."

Gesturing at the roomful of doll dioramas, Heidi Wick said, "You might ask, what motivated Faith to create this? Well, this is 5% of what she did. This is just a drop in the bucket. She did it because it was a healing for herself as well."

Heidi Wick shared an audio recording of her mother from 2021, when Faith Wick visited an earlier incarnation of the Story Art and Museum in a Grand Rapids retail space. In the recording, Faith said it was "amazing" to see such a large collection of her dolls displayed together.

"Isn't that crazy that I don't remember making them?" she said. "But they looked so familiar that I thought, 'I could do that. I could do that!' And I didn't realize, I did do it."

Postcard aerial scene of Duluth
This is Northlandia: a place to bring your curiosity, because you will find curiosities. In this series, the News Tribune celebrates the region's distinctive people, places and history. Discover the extraordinary stories that you just might miss if you're not in the right place, at the right time, ready to step off the beaten path with no rush to return.
Adelie Bergstrom / Duluth News Tribune
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Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; he's also a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the Minnesota Film Critics Alliance. You can reach him at or 218-279-5536.
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