In his house, there is no computer, no television, no car. But technology betrays itself in the record player that plays exclusively Françoise Hardy and other 1960s French music as artist Ed Franklin works in his kitchen.
Franklin says he lives in a "little bubble." He works at Sqecial Media, the book and gift shop on South Limestone, and he walks across the street to get home.
But even though he lives daily life in such a small sector, Franklin is spreading goodwill throughout the city in a unique gift-giving art project, a game hybrid of Secret Santa and scavenger hunts.
Each day in June, he has been placing one of his handmade wooden dolls around downtown Lexington. He posts a clue, usually rhymed, and photos of the doll on the social networking Web sites Facebook and Flickr, leaving the toy for anyone to find.
The event, "A Doll a Day for June," has created a ritual for Franklin that lasts 11/2 to three hours a day. Surrounded by the yellow walls and cabinets of his kitchen, he outlines the characters on the wood to cut out with a scroll saw. Franklin then sits in one of the multicolored chairs at his table. Hunching over — elbows poised at right angles and eyes fixed in intense concentration — he carves out the doll with a wood burner and gives it life with the row of paints lined up in front of him.
The final touch: an "E" crisscrossed with an "F," his initials forming a maker's mark on the soles of the doll's feet.
"God, it's like creativity boot camp," Franklin remembers one of his friends saying of the monthlong project, which will end June 30. "Because every day I have to get up to make a doll — none of them I make in advance."
Influences on Franklin's art include 1960s Scandinavian toys and the wooden ornaments of the Black Forest that he recalls from his childhood in Germany.
But Franklin's style is unique, each of the dolls distinctly different — human, animal or mythical. They have been tiny owls and other birds, a spikey-haired boy and a pigtailed girl, elves and a dragon, even a crying woman exposing her breasts. In stream-of-consciousness fashion, he simply crafts whatever comes to mind. Aside from the wide eyes that gleam with a sentimental twinkle, perhaps the only common element of the dolls is the material: found wood.
"There's a certain energy ... about walking around the city (to gather thrown-away wood) and transforming it" into dolls, he said.
Franklin turns one man's trash into another man's treasure. He modestly calls his doll project "a gift" to all his "friends who live and work downtown." A more accurate description might be cult sensation.
The "wall" of Franklin's online Facebook profile, where visitors can leave notes, is littered with thumbs-up and enthusiastic comments from friends. And seldom do dolls sit for more than a couple hours in their downtown spots before their new owners snatch them away.
On June 11, for instance, the clue that Franklin posted online was a picture of a little owl doll with the caption "811.52 N175b 2007."
Several people raced to find the doll after they figured out that the caption was a Dewey Decimal System number. Franklin's doll was at the Lexington Public Library downtown — perched on a shelf in front of the book The Best of Ogden Nash.
"SCORE!!!!! You should have seen me tear out of Third Street ... I may have created a slight ruckus in the library," Sarabeth Brownrobie, who was the first to successfully find the doll, wrote on Facebook.
Another day, June 7, a doll that looked like a wild-eyed girl in a striped dress was pictured standing at the base of a green statue, with only the statue's animal-like legs visible in the photo. The caption read: "A ship of the desert to mark the zero/ looking near tomes just might make you a hero."
Where was the doll? On the zero-mile-marker statue of a camel at Main Street and Limestone, beside the library.
Finding the kid in all of us
Franklin has stirred an excitement reminiscent of childhood among the doll hunters. Some of them have been exchanging their dolls with one another — grown people acting "kinda like little kids, like when we used to trade stickers," Franklin said.
While friends or friends of friends notify him when they find the dolls, Franklin has no idea about the fate of his art in strangers' hands.
"I liked the idea of there being an element of mystery to them — this little creature that's wandering around the city," he said.
Cristi Violet, a college friend of Franklin, said she feels an element of fated "synchronicity" to those people who happen to stumble onto Franklin's artwork. She describes his project as a "magical ... artistic activism," marveling at her friend's generosity and openness.
"Sometimes art feels kind of stuffy — for an elite group that happens to go to the gallery," Violet said. But "this is out in the world where people can come into contact with it."
Franklin calls his creations "polite graffiti."
"It doesn't deface anything, but it's definitely there," Franklin said. "It changes the way you see your environment ... without leaving a permanent mark."
'Do it yourself'
Franklin's art project has changed the way he and his friends look at Lexington, too.
"I hear some people say Lexington's boring," he said. But "if you want your city to be something, you have to get out there and do it yourself."
Franklin has taken this philosophy to heart — he loves the idea that people have the power to change their communities. He organized a Gallery Hop show featuring 38 local artists several years ago, and The Kentucky Theatre is showcasing the artwork of Franklin and his friend Ashley Watson.
Friends have been telling Franklin that his "Doll a Day" event need not be a one-time project. And who knows, he said, he might turn it into an annual tradition.
"I didn't realize it would be as much fun as it's been," Franklin says. "I might go at it again."
Moral of the story? Look out for downtown dolls next summer.