Saturday, November 2, 2013

Still alive

I can tell you I was suprised when I saw my last post was from July 28th!  Yikes.  Time flies doesn't begin to cover it!  A lot has happened since my last post.  I will detail some of it below.

Just for the sake of those who look at this blog but never bother to follow the links, this is where I work and what I do most days April through October. 

The house is the Johnston Farmhouse, which is the focal point of the Johnston Farm & Indian Agency where I work.  On a typical day I wear 14 pounds of clothing, a corset, and spend 5 to 8 hours telling people and school kids about the past.  (Yes, that's me looking like Whistler's mother!)  Needless to say, during these months I get little doll work done, though I do continue to work as time permits. 

As of October 1st, with the exception of our Christmas event, I am laid off from the historic site until the weather breaks and it begins to warm up in late March, early April.  That means I have time for doll work - and doll sales.  That's another thing that's been going on since I posted last - I opened a Ruby Lane shop where I sell items that come through our consignment shop, including a good many dolls.  Check it out when you have time and tell others to do the same if you like what you see.  You can find it here:  Also be sure to check out Carla Thompson's shop Oldeclectics, , she's a sweetie and has the most marvelous dolls from low to high end.  I'll be detailing my most recent acquisition from her below. 

The consignment shop is another 'happening' for me over the last few months.  Our shop is located in downtown Troy, OH.  We started off with two joined buildings, added another, and just recently added a third location.  Each has its own specialty from antique to vintage to collectible consignment items.  The Ruby Lane shop is an outreach of David Fair on the Square.  Check itall out at or 

Life, of course, continues as well with care for my elderly mother and watching my 10 year old granddaughter.  One more photo and then on to the dolls.  This is Leah this year at the Renaissance Festival as a Medieval fairy.  Gotta brag!

I have been attempting for the last 5 years or so to build a collection of dolls that details app. 100 years of doll history.  I do talks on dolls and that is the focus - the changes in both childhood and dolls from app. 1830 to 1930.  Ony type of doll I wanted but had not been able to afford was a milliner's model.  Thanks to Carla Thompson, I finally have one!  Of course, buying this doll has started me on a roll - need to get her cleaned up and dressed and find out if the term 'milliner's model' is accurate or one of those lovely doll 'fables'. 

The idea behind a Milliner's model is that it was a tiny doll carried by a person who made or sold clothing in the early to mid-1800s and used to display tiny fashions on.  This is what I was told years ago when I began working with dolls and what most people believe.  According to Dorothy Coleman who wrote one of the 'Bibles' on dolls, this is not true.  She says the term was applied to them by a woman who was writing and article and needed a name and so she made 'Milliner's Model' up.  The proper term, Ms. Coleman states, is a varnished head.  She also states - quite properly - that the proper term is garrish and not very flattering and due to this she doubts 'Milliner's model' will ever go away.  As one who believes these things have some sort of real beginning (like unicorns and dragons) I intend to keep hunting to see if I can find any evidence that these little beauties were ever used to display clothing to prospective buyers. 

My little woman reminded me very much of Mrs. Johnston, the wife of the man whose house I work in.  Rachel was a lovely mannered woman born and bred in Philadelphia, PA.  In her wedding portrait she sports a short trendy 'do'.  Though my Milliners has a bun in the back, I still think she bears a remarkable resemblance to Rachel Johnston. 


 First thing I did when I received the doll was give her a careful judicious 'bath'.  For her age - and a lady never tells, but she has to be approaching 180 at the very least - she is in remarkable shape.  The leather cleaned well and is supple.  The arms and legs, which are wood, still retain much of their original plaster and paint, and her head is pretty much intact.  You can see the small cracks and she has a spot missing on the back. 




The challenge with a doll of this nature when it comes to repair is how much or how little to do.  A friend asked me if I was going to fill in on her legs and arms and I said probably not.  At 200 we need to allow her a few blemishes!  I will probably do a little bit to secure the one place on her body where the sawdust is leaking out, and maybe fill the cracks on the plate  bit, but otherwise, I will not do much.  In MHO, there's nothing worse than a lovely old doll that has been made to look brand new.   

I think these doll evoke the era so well.  You can see determination, but also a sweetness and gentleness.  I am starting to work on her dress and I intend to mimick Mrs. Johnston's as closely as my meager sewing skills will allow.  I will post photos as the work progresses.

Next time I post I hope to have some updates on some of the dolls I have shown over the last so many months - I will finally have time to work on them!  Yippee!!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

One of these days...

If it seems like my recent posts have been about future projects, well, it's true!  As well as repairing dolls, I am an historic interpreter.  I work in Piqua OH in the home of John Johnston, who was a Federal Indian Agent from 1802 - 1829.  You can see the house and grounds here:  In April, May and September/October we host almost 5000 school children, and during the summer I lead 6 hour long tours a day through the 1812 Farmhouse four days a week.  Needless to say, most of my doll work gets done in the winter!  Anyhow, I am currently working on a couple of dolls for clients, but my own projects have to take a back seat until the winter lay-off.

Recently, I purchased another faded beauty on eBay.  One of my loves of the doll world is Lencis.  These felt art dolls from the 1930s (and beyond) were miniature works of art.  Of course, being made of felt (and often organdy) they were subject to fading, deterioration, and often became moth meals!  Years ago I bought, restored, and sold a Lenci boudoir or bed doll.  She was lovely and long legged, and  about 24 inches or so in length (as I remember).  A seller on eBay had a Lenci boudoir up for auction and when no one bought it, I contacted the seller and put her in layaway.  I knew she was cool and a good price, so I didn't pay too much attention to the auction details.  You can imagine my surprise when she arrived and was 36 inches tall!  Yes, THREE FEET TALL!!! 

I think I may have bit off enough that I am going to be chewing (on the repair) for a looooonnnngggg time. 

I photographed her as she arrived and will share those photos below.  I am to the point where I have removed the clothing and am ready to begin the cleaning process.  I have also purchased some 100% wool felt from an eBay seller in Australia.  She told me she had another customer purchase felt from her to repair Lencis and recommended that, along with colors, I buy ecru so I can dye it to whatever faded color I need using food coloring.  That will be interesting.

I have repaired Lencis in the past and have a process for filling in the moth holes.  The doll is not in too bad of shape though she needs an appropriate mohair wig (have to see if I can find her in the old catalogs first) and some touch-up.  One wrist is 'broken', but otherwise her body is in great shape.  She came with her stockings and shoes, which is a real plus as they are often missing on a doll of this age.

Her dress is in good shape on the front - luckily - but has moderate to severe moth damage on the back.  It will be interesting to see how the repairs progress on that.  It will be laborious and time-consuming, but well worth it in the end.

Well, enough chatter for now.  Here's the doll.  (She put on a borrowed wig for the photo below).


Note the distinctive Lenci zig-zag stitching on the top of the legs.

 The next photos detail the dress, underclothes, and stitching.



And now for the moth holes!

 Stocking and high-heeled shoes

That's the before pictures.  Come back and take a look and see her 'after' - hopefully soon!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Life, the Universe, and Everything but Dolls....

Just saw that my last blog entry was in February.  Whew!  I have worked on several dolls between now and then, but time for blogging has been at a minimum.  My mother, who turned 85 two weeks back and whose health is declining, is in need of more and more of my time and attention - which is fine.  After all, she took care of me when I couldn't take care of myself.  Anyhow, I finally found a moment to sit down and write a new post. 

I thought I would start off with some images of the work I do that is not dolls.  I also repair pottery and some china (depending on the glaze).  Pottery pieces are the easiest as they are not highly glazed and the colors and 'sheen' are easier to mimic than highly glazed china pieces.  I have done a few china plates, but I am never satisfied.  I greatly enjoy doing the pottery pieces as they usually end up being the ones that people take hold of, turn round and round looking for the repair, and finally say, "Now, what did you do?"

Here's a pair of vases I restored recently.  They came into our consignment shop poorly repaired.  Someone has used a filler that had yellowed with time.

After sealing the old filler, I painted it out with a color near the base tone of the vases.

Next I added various pink paints to mimic the light and dark parts of the original design.

After adding a layer of deep pink stain, I touched the edges with gold.

And there you have them! 

 I mentioned last time that I had a very large 'patient' here at the house.  She has returned to her own home now - dismissed from the doll hospital.  She was a Heinrich Handwerck Simon & Halbig.  You can tell from the finished photos below how large she really was - my granddaughter found her startling she was so real (and nearly her size!)  The doll had a chip out of the lower edge of her eye socket, her eyes were broken and had to be repaired and reset, and she had to be strung.  The doll was in absolutely beautiful condition otherwise.  Quite a prize! 

Here's how she arrived.

This is the eye rocker with the broken eye.  There was a portion missing.  The owner wanted to keep the original eyes, so I filled the eyeball with the missing piece with a packing material and built a new side.  I then painted and stained the white of the eye - making it, in fact, grey and old looking like its match.
You can see the chip out of the eye socket edge mentioned above in this photo.
Here is the repaired piece before the final application of color to the area.
And here she is in my living room chair!  Big enough to look comfortable.

Absolutely gorgeous doll!

Hopefully, fairly soon I will post again and share the restoration of another one of my papier mache ladies.  I just can't help it, I love them - and the older the better.  Her she is as purchased.  When I undressed her, I was quite surprised by what I found.  You'll have to check back to find out what it was!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mind of metal

I have several 'patients' in the clinic right now.  Unlike their human counterparts, they don't mind if I share their defects and cure with the world - or if they do, they don't say anything about it!  Today I am going to walk through the restoration of a metal head. This job is a little different in that the doll is being given to a small child to play with, so no restoraton of the body has been done.  A brand new body has been added to the restored head.  The old body will be preserved and can be replaced with the original when the child has moved past the stage where she wants to play with it, and it becomes a collectible or cherished item. 
Metal heads were the 'solution' to the same problem for Victorian mothers in the 19th century, only their concern was the bisque head of the doll that so often ended up smashed on a tile or wood floor.  In the late 19th century a myriad of substitutes appeared including tin and other metals and celluloid.  None, though, had the same realistic look of flesh and most were not embraced by their little mommies.
Here's my patient as she looked when she arrived.

I removed the head from the body, as I was not going to deal with it during this repair/restoration.  As I did, the paint flaked off and it became apparent that I would have to remove all of the paint.  The one exception was the eyes.  They were intact and I like to leave as much original as I can, so I protected them and worked the new paint up and into the old.  I also left as much of the original hair as I could, though in the end I had to repaint it entirely.

Once the paint was removed I cleaned and fixed the metal (as shown above).  Also shown above is a the filler I used on the hair to level out the areas where paint had chipped off.  This was sanded and sealed before any new paint was applied. 

Above you can see the doll with the new paint applied.  I did the skin and hair colors first and then startred in on the detailing.  As mentioned before I left the original eyes and worked the new paint around her.  In this photo I have added color to the lid lines, eyes lining, and lips.  Nothing has been done with the cheeks.  The hair has been painted but no shading has been applied to imitate the look of the original hair.

Metal heads were shiny to begin with so I used a semi-gloss fixative (mom-aerosol).  The flash makes it appear to be gloss, but it was not.  In the above photo the hair has been 'stained' to imitate the look of the original and all detailing, including eyebrows completed. 
Here she is finished and on the new body, which was taken intact from a newer Danbarry Mint doll purchased on EBay.

And here she is complete and ready to be sent home to her new owner. 
Next week I am giving a talk at the Troy Hayner Cultural Center in Troy, OH.  You can find information regarding the presentation here:  Since January about 30 of my dolls have been on display there, and they will continue to be through March.  Once they are back home, I will show the end results of the restoration on the wax fashion I detailed some months back along with others I mentioned. I haven't forgotten!  They have been on tour! 
Look for another post soon regarding some of my current patients and their treatments.  In my home right now I am 'caring for' several, including a near 40" tall Bisque doll and her little friend who is less than 4" high.  Talk about contrast....