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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wax Dolls, back to the 19th Century and our Chronology

Mary Hillier, Helen Young, Janet P. Johl, and other writers have observed that wax dolls may date to antiquity, though it is doubtful they could survive in the hot Egyptian climate. Our earliest examples tend to be 17th century, but they were popular in the 18th especially as wax works, church figures, and doll house dolls. Beeswax has been used for over a century in Germany to make figures, toys and elaborate candles. Wax headed German angels are classic ornaments, and those dressed in colorful velvet with gilt wings are collectibles in their own right. My oldest wax baby has tiny black glass beads for eyes. She, and the wax life sized Christ child we own date from around the 18th century. The Museum owns a wax devotional doll that was once part of the Mary Merritt collection. We have a poured wax Bru-type of unknown age, no marks. There are some wax slit heads, and pumpkin heads, and bonnet heads. Vargas made lifelike elderly couples in wax in Mexico. These are modeled over plaster and usually come in handmade chairs. They appear in different sizes, from about 9 inches to 18 ins. Also from Mexico are folk dolls, more like Crèche figures. One of these was made by an elderly man in the late sixties. Her clothes are wax dipped cloth. There are also wax doll heads and some of metal dipped in wax. Brigitte Deval has made porcelain dolls dipped in wax, too. There were wax funerary portraits perhaps as early as the 16th century. Waxworks, like those by Mme. Tussaud were popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. Mme. T kept her head in The French Revolution by modeling the severed heads of the victims of Mlle. Guillotine. Alas, at least one was a childhood friend of hers. Wax museums still exist, and so do horror movies about them like House of Wax. Norah Lofts wrote the suspense novel The Little Wax Doll. Voodoo dolls are often wax, and one is features in Yvette Mimieux's Darkness at Noon, a made for TV film. Wax dolls were luxury 1tems in the 19th century. Nellie Olsen’s doll in Wilder's On the Banks of Plum Creek awes Laura completely. The Bronte girls supposedly played with wax dolls, which makes one wonder how poor they may have actually been. Key makers were Pierotti and Montanari, families in England who thrived in the 19th century. They had a method for inserting individual hairs in their dolls; head, and used lovely glass eyes. There are many famous portrait dolls in wax of Queen Victoria and her family. The Pierotti and Montanari families may likely have come from Mexico, and may have made life sized figures as well. Lewis Sorensen, well known NIADA artist, repaired wax dolls and also made the figures for the Ripley's Believe it or Not Museums in the sixties. For more on his work, read his Scrapbook and articles and books by our friend, R. Lane Herron, who knew Mr. Sorensen. For more on the 19th century and earlier, read Mary Hillier's book on wax doll, on Amazon or in my bibliography. Twentieth century artists include Bobbi Langkau, who let her sons kick around wax doll prototypes to test doll strength, Gladys McDowell, Sheila Wallace, and Paul Crees. Helen Young also writes about wax dolls, and she notes that they can be made from candles and crayons, something I used to do often. Also, figurative candles like the old Xmas and Halloween examples of the fifties, and current examples sold even at Wal-Mart and dollar stores make good additions as wax dolls to a doll collection. Shackman used to make a wax baby, and there are wax Kewpies, too. These dolls are still prey to extremes of temperatures, but are sturdier than you think. They can be repaired by expert artists. The Holub Doll Hospital series also features a wax doll. I store mine upstairs, out of sunlight. I check them over and avoid letting anyone touch them. Fingerprints and long nails are deadly. The prototype Bye Lo baby was wax; there are only a few models, and I think one was in the Merritt collection. Lolly's Doll Museum, formerly in Galena, had some nice examples. When I was a child first collecting, wax dolls by these and makers like Charles Marsh, Peck, and others, abounded in doll collections. Now, many veteran collectors have not seen or heard of them.

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