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Message in a bottle

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Most adults don't give much thought to baby dolls. They're merely toys, discarded remnants of childhood. But dolls have a very different meaning for Mary Paulsen, who lives in the small town of Supply, about half an hour southeast of Wilmington. She's dedicated several years of her life to building massive houses for dolls at her home.

Her work isn't just for fun. She says God told her to build houses for her collection of 6,000 dolls to raise money for the Feed the Children charity. That was in 1996. Two years later, God sent another message. This time, Paulsen was told to paint on the insides of old windows. She's been painting, building and raising money at Mary's Gone Wild Visionary Folk Art Garden & Doll Village ever since.

Paulsen's doll village is painstakingly detailed. There's a library, a schoolroom, a chapel, a general store and a "Make a Wish for Jesus" fountain. The rooms are filled with all the appropriate knickknacks, as well as scattered writings (some Biblical, some Paulsen's own) and paintings.

In addition to the intricately decorated "doll baby" rooms at the front of the property are several other structures built entirely from glass bottles. Some are themed, decorated with toys and Paulsen's art. There's a Coca-Cola house and one that's decorated to look like a jail. There's a tall cylindrical structure that visitors can enter and, at the right times of day, bask in the stunning colors and sunlight distorted through the bottles. There's also a gallery where visitors can view or purchase one of the hundreds of windows Paulsen has painted, many featuring mermaids.

There's no tongue-in-cheek coyness or smug whimsy here, only joy. Paulsen works entirely with found or donated objects, and the money that gathers in the collection boxes goes straight to Feed the Children. It's possible to spend hours exploring each room, but Paulsen's home is also located conveniently near the shore, making Mary's Gone Wild an intriguing side trip on the way to the beach.

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