Griselda the Hippo Witch Shelf Sitter Doll

Hippo Witch by Karen Furst of Trilby Works

If you’ve spent any time on this blog, you know I like hippos. I’ve created a number of hippo art pieces but this one is one of my favorites as it combines my other favorite subject: Halloween! My hippo witch is a shelf sitter, meaning her fat legs move at the hips and are bent so that they drape over the edge of a shelf. I made her for an art doll challenge but failed to complete her in time for submission (what a shocker).

Hippo Witch by Karen Furst of Trilby Works
Hippo Witch by Karen Furst of Trilby Works

She is made from a plastic peanut butter container and styrofoam, with layers of paper clay painted and sealed. Her clothing is hand made and caused me many difficulties as sewing is not my favorite activity. I used very old purple velvet scraps from a dress handed down in my family along with orange wool felt and black sueded fabric.

Unfortunately, I can’t sell her as my mother (the original hippopotomaniac) spied her in my studio and claimed her. But maybe I’ll make another one some day.

In the fall of 2015, the hippo witch was chosen to appear in Prims magazine, published by Stampington. Here’s how Stampington describes the magazine:

Prims exclusively features art inspired by a bygone era. You will find artwork of primitive, folk, historic, and early Americana style artists that will captivate the imagination and enchant with their simple beauty. The traditional beauty of handcrafted art making includes dolls, paintings and mixed-media artwork, along with teddy bears in Stampington & Company’s unique publication.

Prims Cover Autumn 2015
Prims Cover, Autumn 2015.

The magazine requested that I write up a short essay about my work. Here’s what I came up with:

Griselda the Hippo Witch
by Karen Furst

My mother has a huge collection of hippos, probably close to 5,000 or so. It’s getting to be quite a challenge to find new ones for her so… what’s an artsy person to do? Make one! My hippo witch Griselda came to life after several weeks of gluing, sculpting, drying, painting, sewing, and experimenting.

Griselda’s body is made from a plastic peanut butter container, with a painted paper clay head, arms, and legs. She is a shelf-sitter with legs that move at the hips. Lengths of stiff but bendable wire run through her arms and legs as an armature.

My color scheme (and overall theme) was inspired by Halloween. I pieced together Griselda’s outfit from vintage purple velvet scraps from a dress handed down in my family along with orange wool felt and black suede fabric from my stash. I did not use a pattern but rather fiddled with cutting and folding the fabric to fit. I used a machine to sew the triangular strips of fabric for the skirt and its hem. I hand cut stars and swirls from felt and glued them to her skirt and cape with fabric glue. Lengths of ribbon and trim and a silk flower further embellish her clothing and add a finished look.

Griselda seemed to need a hat; I made one from black craft felt, sewn into a cone shape, stuffed with polyester, and glued to a brim of cardboard covered with felt. A purple cord covers the seams and edges. I played around a bit with the scale of the hat – should I go large and floppy or small and pointed? I decided on the latter; it gives her a pert, almost Victorian look and it’s a pleasing punctuation mark at the top of her triangular outline.

Every witch needs a broom and pumpkin. The broom gave me fits: I had no idea how to make one! I tried to buy one online but just couldn’t find anything. Finally, I clipped some rushes from a fireplace broom and glued them to a stick. I wrapped the rushes with embroidery floss to keep them in place. By contrast, the pumpkin was easy. It’s just a ball of paper clay, shaped into a pumpkin, with a twisted piece of copper wire glued in for the stem.

When Griselda flies home on her broom from her Prims magazine adventure, she’ll head on over to my mother’s house where she’ll join the rest of the hippo collection. But I know it won’t take a magic spell for my hippopotamaniac mother to fall in love with her!

Karen Furst is an assemblage and mixed media artist who is currently working on a book about how to create miniature stone fairy houses. See her work and contact her at

Tools & Materials:

plastic food container
fabric glue
paper clay
paint, brushes
fabric, felt
ribbons and embellishments
scissors, thread, needle
polyester stuffing
wood twig
embroidery floss

Thank you Prims magazine for choosing my piece!

Hippo Inspiration

If you like hippos as much as I do, please follow my Pinterest board: Hippos In Art. Here’s a preview.

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