A regular visitor to Clarksdale, Sheena “Ike” Ikemazu has done something for the blues that no one else has ever done.
A native of Japan and the wife of the Japanese blues guitarist Tada Ikemazu, she started making her Blues Catcher Dolls seven years ago.
A newcomer to America, Sheena has called Mississippi her home for less than a decade. Before moving to the American South, she and her husband would visit and she would search, in vain, for souvenirs of this area’s blues musicians. So, she thought, “I could make my own.”
“In Japan, in junior school, you have to learn to sew,” said Sheena, who learned to sew from her grandmother, Obachan Tome, who also made dolls by hand.
These days, she accompanies her husband Tada on outings where he play his blues on the streets for tips, an industry term called busking.
And there on a corner on Beale Street in downtown Memphis, she can often be found sewing her love of the blues, paying homage to the bluesmen of old, and etching the likenesses of bluesmen and women by hand.
Sheena sold her first Blues Catcher Doll, a likeness of R.L. Burnside, to the musician during the King Biscuit Festival in Helena/West Helena, Ark.
She creates about 50 to 60 dolls a year, hand-selecting such details as the fabric of their clothes or the color of a purse. Some of her favorites include Caribbean Jackson, Fred McDowell and Memphis Minnie.
Sheena says she find old photographs of the musicians and studies the style of clothes they wear and mostly shops thrift stores for the material. Once she creates a pattern, she then makes multiple dolls in the same collection.
Photographer Bill Steber was encouraged when he saw one of his photographs of a blues musician made into a doll.
Sheena said, “He is very supportive and gives me permission.”
Some people are moved by her dolls. Sheena is saddened to see blues musicians “passing away” and says she “wants to preserve their memory” in her dolls.
Sheena currently sells her dolls, which range in price from $40 to over $250, only at area music festivals or via Facebook. However, she said, “I want to sell (my dolls) on the street.”
Have an interest in the Blues Catcher Dolls? Go online and like Sheena Ikemazu’s Blues Catcher Dolls page on Facebook. There you can see some of her handiwork, request a certain musician and place an order.