Monday, April 4, 2016

Not Quite Living Dolls

I used to attend a porcelain doll-making class on Wednesday nights, many years ago.  This isn't the first time I've talked about dolls here at String of Pearls, and I'm sure it won't be the last time, either.  Perhaps my extreme love of dolls stems from that fact that I raised all boys and never had the joy of finding new baby dolls from Santa under the tree on Christmas morning!

It's been about 20 years or so since I carefully cleaned my last greenware (hardened clay) head and limbs, had them fired in the kiln, painstakingly painted them, and then had them fired again.  It's been about 20 years since I chose the perfect wig for a sweet little doll face, constructed a body out of wire, stuffing, and cloth, and sewed together the perfect miniature outfit. Even though I gave most of the dolls I made away (as gifts or special orders filled for family and friends), I still have a number of porcelain beauties on the built-in shelves my husband crafted for them on either side of the fireplace in our living room.

My favorites are the antique reproductions of early 20th-century German "character dolls," which were meant to look like real human children--unlike the wide-eyed, bow-lipped, idealized dolls produced in the 19th century.  (If you'd like more information on character dolls, this old post is helpful.)  For example, this rather pensive looking, chubby-cheeked German lass, a Kammer & Rhindehardt creation, is known as "Gretchen."

I made Gretchen's Bavarian costume using a combination of new and vintage materials.  The ivory blouse and apron are scraps of antique fabrics that my neighbor's mom (a fellow doll/antiques enthusiast) gave to me.  This same woman gave me Gretchen's very old black leather doll shoes.  As you might know (if you've stopped by lately), I recently returned from a lengthy stay in Germany.  While I was there, I picked up a little souvenir plate at the airport in Frankfurt, thinking it would fit very nicely into this little fräulein's hands.  And I'm happy to say that it does.

When this same K & R mold is used to make a boy doll, he is referred to as "Hans."  I made my Hans a towhead, since most of my boys were very blond when they were youngsters; and I fashioned an early 1900's outfit of knickers and flat cap for him.  The vest is an antique doll garment gifted to me.  And notice that Hans carries a Rosary in his pocket (how thrilled I was to find a perfect doll-sized set of plastic beads!).
Another favorite German character doll from that same era is called "Hilda," by J. D. Kestner.  I decided to dress my Hilda as a boy, however, and made him a replica of the sailor suit in which all of my sons were photographed between the ages of one and two.

At one point, after making a set of small dolls that were supposed to represent our five sons (check them out here), I decided to make a pair that looked like my husband and me when we were children.  Both of the molds I used are German.  The little girl (dressed the way I was in a photo taken on Easter in 1961, when I was almost three) is Kestner's "Century Baby," circa 1920's.  I chose this mold because of the round cheeks and tiny eyes, two facial features yours truly shares with this doll.

The nameless little boy I used for my husband's doll is by Johan Huebach, also circa 1920's.  I thought he was the ticket because he has a rather high forehead, a trait that my husband inherited from his Irish grandfather, and one which is shared by several of his siblings.  I gave this doll his dreamy light blue eyes, his thick eyebrows, and the freckles he had on his nose as a boy.  (I regret now that I didn't try to paint front teeth with a nice big space between them, to make the resemblance stronger!)  I dressed this little guy in a plaid flannel shirt and Chuck Taylor-style black sneakers, two wardrobe staples of my husband's.

These sweet German character dolls are all the more beautiful to me because of their not-quite-perfect, very realistic features.  Each has his or her own unique look, just like real children do.  I think the doll artists who sculpted these exquisite doll heads over a century ago were incredibly talented people.  And I'm so thrilled that some the original dolls survived long enough so that molds could be made from them, making it possible for modern doll-makers (and doll-lovers!) like me to create replicas of these pieces of history to love and pass on to future generations.


  1. I would sound too dramatic if I said I was almost breathless looking at these gorgeous dolls so I won't say it. But oh my goodness! They are amazing and I am amazed!! The exquisite detail! The eyelashes and freckles! My own love of dolls is extreme also, going back into my doll-filled childhood. But mostly I am amazed at the artistry in these. Those beautiful, lifelike faces.

    GOSH, you are talented!!!!

    Oh - and one other thing. I love your blog in green!!

    1. Nancy, I almost didn't post this today, because I thought, "Who really wants to see my dolls?" Then I remembered that this blog is mostly for my own amusement anyway, and I'm totally in love with dolls. So...

      It doesn't surprise me that you're as crazy about dolls as I am--this is just one more thing we have in common that makes me think we're very much kindred spirits.

      These antique German character dolls really are works of art, aren't they? I love looking at their sweet little faces!

    2. Oh, and I'm glad you like the green. I normally resist change, but I just felt like this old blog of mine needed a bit of a facelift.

  2. Replies
    1. The one I made to look like my old picture reminds me a little bit of Miss O.