Robert Tonner’s early interest in creating immaculately detailed drawings led to a career in fashion. After graduating from Parsons School of Design, Tonner was hired by Bill Blass to design his Sportswear line, Blassport. Throughout his 7th Avenue career, Tonner’s spin on modern American dressing continually caught the eye of the fashion world’s trend-spotters—his designs were frequently featured in Women’s Wear Daily, Town & Country, New York Magazine, the New York Times and Vogue.
Tonner’s long-time fascination with sculpting and doll art inspired him to try his hand at sculpting original figures. In 1988, Tonner was asked to join the elite National Institute of American Doll Artists (NIADA). During the years that followed, Tonner turned more of his attention to developing and perfecting his doll designs, eventually leaving 7th Avenue to start the Robert Tonner Doll Company, Inc. in 1991.
Tonner’s initial recognition came from many proprietary characters with their rich back stories and highly detailed clothing and accessories. This recognition resulted in product being sold in some of the most exclusive retail stores in the world, such as FAO Schwarz, Saks Fifth Avenue and Harrods in London, just to name a few.
However, it wasn’t just his own character designs that gained notoriety. His interest in modern pop-culture resulted in numerous licensing agreements with some of the world’s top companies such as Disney, Warner Brothers, DC, Sony and many more. Harry Potter, Big Bang Theory, Twilight, Avatar, Superman, Spider-Man and Snoopy are just a few of the many characters that Tonner has brought to life in doll form.
The Tonner Doll Company has, over the years, been a generous supporter of various charitable causes with time, product and financial support for charities such as AmFAR, A Friends House, the SPCA, Health Alliance Hospital and Action on Addiction, among many others.
Robert Tonner’s entered the realm of digital art. For the past few years Robert has studied zBrush—a digital sculpting program. As of 2016, he no longer uses traditional methods to sculpt. Robert feels that he’s creating some of his most successful work with this new medium.
Parsons School of Design, NYC
Disney World Peoples Choice Award
Toy Fare Hall of Fame
Ulster County Entrepreneur of the Year
American Red Cross, Humanitarian Award
Doll Reader Lifetime Acheiment Award
Health Alliance Community Service Award
National Institute of American Doll Artist, President 1993-1995
Health Alliance Foundation board Member, VP 2015-2017
Kingston Uptown Business Association, Board Member. President 2010
The process of designing a doll for production requires a great deal of help. Over the years, I have the extreme pleasure to work with some of the most talented people around when I needed assistance—sculptors, photographers, graphic artists, face painters, hair stylists, pattern-makers and sewers (it truly does take a village!).
Photographers: These guys can take a good doll/figure and make it look incredible. Robert Storm was our constant photographer for 20 plus years. Ernesto Padro-Campos did special projects with his own unique style. Pat Henry is fantastic at adding a fashion infusion to a photo and also shot some of my favorite magazine covers, and Susan Tomb, who did wonderful, magical work--especially for Wilde Imagination.
Sculptors: Meeting other like-minded sculptors has been a thrill and their talent makes for a much better end product—John Balogh, Margaret Lahey, and Ralph Bienert.
Face painter: For over a decade,Sherry Miller has brought my sculpts to life with her highly detailed and innovative face paints.
Engineer: And none of this could have been done without the help of one of the smartest people I know—John Balogh. John helped me through crisis after crisis in doll making.
Last but not least, I wanted to mention Helen Kish. When I began this journey, she generously shared her knowledge and expertise of doll making.