January 19th, 2017
by Steve Kelley and Jeff Parker
When I was around 19 or 20, my Mom and I made and sold reproduction antique porcelain dolls — the toddler and baby kind.
It wasn’t the type of thing I’d ever mention to a girl on a first date.
Somehow, hearing, “I make porcelain dolls with my Mom” coming from the mouth of a 20-year-old guy who’s sitting on the other side of a pizza from you would very likely have shortened the evening considerably.
I’d usually say I was an “artisan working in ceramics” or something — never the words “doll-maker.”
I don’t know why I’m still kind of uneasy talking about it, but there’s a comfort in being able to assure you that I was responsible for the more manly aspects of the job. Meaning, I poured the porcelain, cleaned it, fired it, sanded it, and assembled the dolls.
Mom sewed elaborate clothing for the dolls — from feathered hats, right down to their oh-so-lacy bloomers.
See? Uneasy again.
Once the parts were finished and ready, I’d put the dolls together in a sort of assembly line. In small piles on my work bench, there’d be porcelain heads, arms, knees, feet, torsos, glass eyes, etc.
Pretty creepy really.
Working like a Toy Story Dr. Frankenstein, I’d hook a heavy elastic to the dolls left foot, pass it through the assembled leg parts, then through the lower torso and the other leg parts, and hook the bungie to the right foot.
Then I’d snag the elastic with a long hook, pull it through the neck hole to hook on the head, and sit the doll on the table before moving on to the next one.
After awhile, I’d have four or five bald baby dolls sitting there staring with their beady little glass eyes — and no arms.
My Mom, who loves children beyond belief, would sometimes help with this chore, but hated the way I’d work by assembly line. Seeing the little armless dolls sitting there silently mourning their impairment would really, really upset her.
She would grieve over the sight to a point when she’d sobbingly bug me to, “Please put some arms on the poor little things!”
I’d of course comply, sometimes humorously attaching legs to the arm sockets, for which, Mom would pop me on the back of the head.
After a couple of years, we shut down our little shop of horrors. Our doll business was just too labor-intensive for the rate of return.
That was always given as the reason… but I’ve long suspected that knowing there were piles of parts and half assembled baby dolls out in the garage eventually got to Mom.
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