Yesterday's Magazette

7 – Restoring Memories: One Doll At A Time

By Madonna Dries Christensen

You find her in a box, wrapped in a faded baby blanket; her mohair curls are matted and soiled, one foot looks as if a cat chewed on it, the moveable eyes are lop-sided, two teeth remain intact in a bow-shaped mouth, and her limbs hang as loose as a marionette. But, oh, that familiar face. It’s irresistible.

She was your childhood playmate. Santa brought her the year you’d about lost faith in the jolly old man. You named her Clara. Now, you look closely and see your small, dirty fingerprints etched on the composition body. You can’t bring yourself to discard this tangible piece of your past. But Clara is falling apart. Is there any reason to keep her?

dolls3The answer is yes. Most dolls can be restored, although some experts advise repairing only the worst damage. Leaving a few blemishes adds to the doll’s vintage authenticity. If you have dolls in poor condition, look for a certified doll doctor in your community and make an appointment for an evaluation. If you don’t find one, try the Internet. Many doll doctors have Websites and accept mail-order patients.

Antique appraisers often warn that repairs affect the value of an item, including dolls. Mary Ann Pizzolato, owner of The Doll Hospital in Spring, Texas, says, “A proper restoration will never decrease the value of a doll. By definition, if the doll does indeed need restoration, it has already lost value. By restoring the doll properly, you are preserving what can be preserved and saving what value you have. Of course, value is important only if the doll will be sold. We try to determine what the goals of our customers are, and then advise about the extent of restoration.”

Mary Ann’s background in Chemical Engineering enables her to duplicate the doll’s original material, and her artist’s hands then sculpt new body parts. She created a cleaning solution that removes grime without damaging the original paint. Remember the way composition dolls looked and felt (gummy) when we bathed them or unintentionally left them out in the rain? Before leaving the hospital, the restored doll is sprayed with a vanilla fragrance that Mary Ann concocted for that new dolly smell.

Marilyn Korfhage repairs dolls in and around Sarasota, Florida. She earned her doll repair specialist certificate more than 25 years ago and specializes in porcelain, composition, and hard plastic. Her artistic flair blossomed in elementary school when she won a scholarship for a summer course at John Herron Art School at Indiana University. Despite the worst of the Depression being over, her father still had no job and was able to scrape up carfare for only three weeks. But Marilyn clung to her interest in art. When she married, she and her husband owned a porcelain factory. The natural progression for Marilyn was creating porcelain dolls and teaching the art of doll making. About those days she says, “I loved to see ladies take home their first doll. To start with a piece of clay, and then have this beautiful doll with ruffles and frills and hair bows and jewelry. It’s wonderful and rewarding.”

Another segue led Marilyn to doll repair. When her niece’s house burned to the ground, the distraught young woman called her aunt. “My dolls burned up,” she cried. When they dug into the rubble, they found the heads intact. Marilyn was able to rebuild the dolls. Later, after retiring to Florida, she set up shop in her home. She has since restored dolls who’ve lost their voices, their hair, their teeth, their limbs and fingers and toes, and whose eyes have sunk or become blurred with cataracts. Marilyn advises, “If you’re going to give the doll to someone, have it repaired first. If you pass along a doll that’s broken, it will most likely be discarded somewhere down the line.”

Lynn Chambers, in Almonte, Ontario, Canada, has been restoring and conserving dolls for more than 20 years. She says, “When conserving or restoring a doll, my goal is not to make it look new, but to have it look its appropriate age, having survived well. They are windows on history!”

Recently retired doll doctor Sheila M. Callen says, “An old doll represents a life style; one shared by girls of yesteryear. It is an appealing memory. If you have a broken doll, keep all the parts, no matter how small or insignificant the pieces might seem.”

Whether you are keeping your doll or passing it along to another generation, recording its provenance adds sentimental value. Before the doll’s hospitalization, take pictures, without clothing. Take close-ups of the worst areas. If she has factory markings, photograph and record the identification. The doctor will note these things, too, and will detail in writing what will be repaired. While the doll is in the hospital, record everything you know about her. Be specific, and date and sign your name to the information. If you use the term “my doll,” someone will wonder years from now who “my” was. If the doll was your grandmother’s, state which grandmother and use her full name. Where did she live? Did she tell you a story about when she got the doll? Write down all you know about the doll. When she is returned, take “after” pictures. Keep the pictures and information with the doll. It wouldn’t hurt to have two copies, one with the doll and one in a fire-safe place.

In some cases, the damage done to dolls was not so much at the hands of a child as it is with improper storage. Keep them in a cool, dry environment (never in basement or attic). Wrap loosely in acid free paper or cotton fabric; never in plastic. If a doll with moving eyes has a composition or bisque head, store it face down or standing. Vinyl and hard plastic dolls will warp if stored face down, so place them in a standing position.

But why store dolls at all? Instead, restore them. You, as well as others, will enjoy seeing them on the bed in the guest room, on the mantel, in a child-size chair or cradle, or tucked into a window seat. Keep them out of direct sunlight, free of dust, and, just like with humans, cigarette smoke is harmful to a doll’s well-being.

Why do people find it hard to part with a once-beloved doll? Mary Ann Pizzolato says, “Dolls are a little piece of childhood. It’s a better, more fun time. Here, they see their memories recreated; they buy a chance to cradle their infancy to their chests. We get to relive a lot of happy times with our customers.”

*Madonna Dries Christensen compiled the anthologies, Dolls Remembered and Toys Remembered, available through Amazon and other major bookstores.

Mary Ann Pizzolato’s Website is Lynn Chambers is: Call Marilyn Korfhage at 941-355-2727. The photos here are courtesy of Sheila Callen.

Vol. 37 No. 4 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Winter- 2010/11


1 Comment »

  1. i have two dolls that are 18 inches tall and they have a wierred sign under there hair if i send a pic to u could u tell me are they worth anything

    Comment by roxann — July 29, 2013 @ 10:17 am | Reply

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