Meet, Dr. Wren - The Man Behind the Southern Charm HooDoo Dolls!
An exclusive interview about magic, dolls and the Southern Charm cast!
July 25, 2017 3:54pm
If you caught a glimpse of Southern Charm Season 4 Episode 5, you know it wasn’t the cast members who stole the show! In fact, it was a frazzle-haired, swirly-eyed “boo hag” by the name of Mama Estelle! What’s a boo hag? We’ll get to that in a minute. But first, it’s time to meet her maker. Introducing, Dr. Wren!
Truth be told, he was a hard man to get ahold of! We can’t blame him, either. Because, after the dolls made a cameo on the show, he got truckloads of hate-mail from some silly religious fanatics who considered it to be the work of the devil! GASP! Likely, the same people who buy Barbies and Bratz dolls to give little girls
an unhealthy body image something to pass the time. Anyway, I digress. The point is… unlike voodoo, hoodoo IS NOT a religion. It’s all about conjuring energy. If there’s any magic going on here, it’s GOOD magic. We can testify to that, because, Dr. Wren turned out to be just as kind and well-intentioned as can be! A total f*****g sweetheart. Not to mention, FASCINATING!
The story starts in a South Carolina town called Dixiana where he grew up in an amalgamation of strikingly different cultures including the white, traditional, southern bunch and the Gullah peoples of the “low-country.” His grandmother, an already superstitious woman, used to share sewing patterns with these women and so there was a natural cross-cultural exchange that eventually made its way to a growing Dr. Wren. Superstitions like being sure not to close the gate to the cemetery when you visit or your spirit would get trapped! That sorta thing. That’s also where the hoodoo and fetish dolls come from. (I won’t give you full history lesson here, but you can get a nice explanation from Post & Courier.) “I feel I’m more of a historian. I’m trying to preserve this. Taking what I know from my family and putting it into these dolls that I’m making.” -Dr. Wren
The idea to start manifesting this folklore came to him in the 80’s but he didn’t start scratching that creative itch until about 4 years ago. His dolls soon became local celebrities in Charleston, usually at the request of a neighbor or a visitor who’d heard by word of mouth. That is… until Southern Charm! The cameo may have been brief, but there was no ignoring those wild-looking dolls! The artistry and attention to detail really translated on screen. It’s years of imagination and passed-down tradition mixed with undeniable talent… there’s just something special about Dr. Wren’s creations!
Now… on to the interview with Dr. Wren!
TOR: Do you watch Southern Charm?
DR.WREN: I have watched it… but, not religiously. I don’t watch a lot of TV shows. I’m more into old movies.
TOR: What did you think when you saw yourself and the hoodoo dolls on TV?
DR.WREN: Well, I hurt myself and had a fat lip the day before filming so I was just wondering if that was going to be obvious!
TOR: What do you think about the show?
DR.WREN: I’ve gotten very into the characters and, of course, I’ve have my own opinions! I really love that it showcases all these places around Charleston.
TOR: I’m going to name each cast member. Give me a couple words to describe each!
DR.WREN: Oh, gosh.
DR.WREN: Good. Wonderful. A purely nice person.
DR.WREN: Fun! In a lot of ways, similar to me. We have a kindred spirit.
DR.WREN: Youth. Attractive.
DR.WREN: Withstanding. Hard to read.
DR.WREN: Money! Old Charleston.
DR.WREN: Wacky. Stylish.
DR.WREN: Sensitive. Nice. I loved seeing a straight man to pick up a sewing machine on national TV! It was brave.
DR.WREN: Captivating. Charismatic. Even before the show, I would see her out and I thought… “Who is that?!”
TOR: Is Dr. Wren your alter ego? Who is Dr.Wren?
DR.WREN: Dr. Wren is definitely my alter ego. In hoodoo, all root doctors have a special name, usually that of an animal or bird… and I always loved wrens. Entirely coincidence, the wren is also the state bird of South Carolina!
TOR: How did you get into making these?
DR. WREN: I’ve had this idea since the 80’s. I was opening a department store in New Orleans a long time ago and there was this local vendor in town who sold these voodoo dolls. Voodoo is totally different than hoodoo, by the way. They inspired me. I always envisioned this eccentric woman named Sally Kerry selling my dolls. Eventually I just did it myself. I started making them and loaded up a bunch of dolls to take to this college campus event. I thought, “these college kids are going to laugh at this middle aged man and his dolls! what the heck am I doing?” but I went despite being scared and they just loved them.
TOR: Is each one different? Do they all “do” the same thing?
DR.WREN: They are 1-of-a-kind and each one takes about 7-10 days to make. There are 3 families of dolls. The boohags and haints are the most popular. Conjurers like the one Cameran chose… they’re strong, powerful representations of women. Spirits and specters which are always very pale and inspired by my imaginary friends as a child. All of them are about GOOD magic… not bad! They can all bring health, security, and comfort.
TOR: Has anyone ever made a crazy request?
DR.WREN: One woman wanted me to help her get pregnant! Another wanted a doll to help their kid get their life on track. It doesn’t work like that!
TOR: What’s this thing around their neck?
DR.WREN: Those are the gris gris charm bags. They all have 5 special elements from hoodoo: graveyard dirt, lavender, root, etc. You can personalize it with a lock of your own hair, a lock of a lover’s hair, fingernails… just make sure to keep it an odd number! Even numbers are bad luck. Also, each bag contains a special poem.
TOR: What’s this fetish thing all about?
DR.WREN: People think that it has some sexual connotation. A fetish is just another word for charm or amulet!
TOR: How do they get their names? Like Cameran Eubank’s Mama Estelle?!
DR.WREN: Well, I try to find names that have a deeper meaning and that look like the doll. One woman wanted a doll with really bright colors… so I came across this name, Ulalia, which means bright spirit! Also, they’re ALWAYS named alphabetically. I make one starting with A, the next one B, C and so on. That’s just a fun game for me.
TOR: How are you handling all this new attention?
DR.WREN: It’s just been crazy. I was getting around 130 emails a day when it first aired! From Australia, Canada, all over the world. Cameran warned me: “are you ready for this?!”.
NOTE: Dr. Wren’s Hoodoo and Fetish Dolls are all tailor made and can vary in production time. You’re welcome to order a doll, but he’s currently booked to summer of 2021! Meanwhile, follow Dr. Wren on Instagram!