Voit Papier Mache Doll Repaired

Kat Soto emailed some pictures a while back of a Voit papier mache doll that a collector had brought to her for restoration. The email and images I received from Kat are below - shared with her permission, for those of you who love papier maches. Repairing dolls is an art. And by working with these old dolls we learn something through holding them - a kind of memory that we bring to our own work.

Doll collectors want pristine dolls in original finish, but that's not always the way they come to us after more than a hundred years of life.  Sometimes they come to us broken, and so the decision becomes to save the doll through restoration and stabilization.

Kat says, "The owner is a wonderful lady who has a great story of how Harriet was discovered in one of several old trunks left in the attic of her family home in Connecticut."

Kat's email is below.  Thanks to Kat and to Harriet's owner for sharing her journey with us.


Dear Dixie,

Well I finally finished Harriet.  She was a treat to work on and I've included as promised some images of the process.  You are welcome to share.  Included is an explanation of the steps taken.

(Image above) Harriet as she came to me with her back broken in pieces with some missing.  Ding in back of hair as well.  will be filled and painted only where necessary.  She appears to be an early Andreas Voit as Edyth mentioned.  Her paint is authentic.

 Harriet's front.  In pretty good shape.  Nose has a big nick which will be filled and painted to blend in.  I do not typically do more than is absolutely necessary.  I cleaned soot and fly specks from her face but did not  disturb paint imperfections in cheeks or manufacture's imperfections.  There is a precious little paint drip of the lip colour under her chin from her  paint job in manufacturing.  The overall painted features are very nice and were carefully applied. 

The difference between doll repair and what I do has much to do with preserving as much of the dolls care-worn charm as possible.  I deal more in special effects to mimic the original than "remaking" a doll to contemporary standard when restoring. Most of my clients are antique dealers and  for them I  do museum quality restoration.  I match not only colour precisely but subtle idiosyncrasies such as  old varnish stains as well so that the repair will be harmoneous.   Skin texture depending on the material used in the original doll is important too. Matching the original sheen is very important.  Luckily Harriet had wonderful care by her owner and the old varnish was in excellent condition on her face and chest.  Easy to replicate.  She may have been sealed in the turn of the century when she had a home-made repair done on her back.  There was a layer of soot which was reluctant to budge on her chin which seemed to be coated in shellac.  The type of cardboard patch and glue used in the hasty repair was of early 1900's variety as were the satin ribbon "suspenders" used to re-secure the dolls shoulder-plate to the body.

Available pieces cemented in place using cardboard curve as a guide for radius.  Sometimes these old gals warp and puzzle piece edges do NOT necessarily determine glue placement.

Back repaired with Soy Apoxie including re-sculpture of missing sections.  Acrylic gouache paint blended seamlessly with original paint colour which starts mid-neck and continues on shoulders.  Sealed with non-yellowing UV resistant polymer varnish.  Paper-clay would not have been strong enough for this repair and unlike porcelain art restoration, there is no need for the repair to be "un-done" as even in paperclay it could destroy the doll in the attempt.  All of my porcelain repairs are reversible.  The essential element in this repair due to the placement of the break was strength.   Soy Apoxie is very neutral and sands at the same rate as the gesso layer of the dolls matrix. Exposed paper Mache is a different story and requires a different method of binding.

Close up of original varnish finish untouched and new paint/varnish blended seamlessly to front.  Note I did not repair the chip at the lower left of the image.  No need to, it was not a structural point and it adds to the dolls charming age.

What the repair looks like from the inside.  You can see the crack lines filled and the new bits re-sculpted and sanded smooth.  Drill hole area at edge was reinforced.  The early repair done in the turn of the century resulted in a bit of over-zealous drilling for attachments which were bound with carpet thread.  The new re-attachment could not be so as the percale cotton cloth was very rotted and would not take anymore than strong silk thread and a very thin needle.   I used minimally spaced tabs for attachment.  The head which had been stuffed with cotton had only a few bug casings in it and there were minimal worm holes in the  shoulder-plate  I re-stuffed the cotton into the head after cleaning it.  Wish there had been an old document in there!!

Close up of nose refill and repaint.

Back view - Funny old body created of cotton percale about 500 count.  Sometime in the early century she got an extra "skin" of finer cloth on her upper body to fill her out.  Don't think this would have been done in the factory. I'm not certain if this strange little body was factory made.  Her shoes are adorable and look like they may have been "down-sized" child's slippers.  Erratic stitching at toes.  They are in excellent condition.  Such teeny hands.  Lovely stitched fingers and bound at wrists with cotton thread.   Back view.

Front view of body above - Funny stitching for contouring on upper legs and crotch.  Cute home made stockings.  Look to have had writing at sock tops but unfortunately illegible and just appears as blobby stains now.  No doubt some wonderful museum scope thingie could reveal the writing!  Dream on Kat!

Harrie refreshed.  Her wardrobe below:

Little cotton slip. looks home made.  
Maybe a babies slip but has pretty tiny waist.

Chemise top and another slip.  Percale.  
Slip is piece-made with scraps.  
Someone's Mama really loved 
their little gal to go to such trouble.

The little frock looks like a resized child's dress.  The sleeves have been cut off and there are basting threads all about the neck line and waist.  Interesting cotton thread "chain" stitch at layers.  Wonderful  woven print of very fine cotton.  SIlk sash.

Dress, sash and a beautiful little crocheted lace collar 
which I suppose was intended to attach but dress was never finished.

Love this silk bonnet.  Looks to be made for a doll and fits Harriet precisely. Wrapped wire supports in front and about rim.  Looks to be made of ribbon over buckram and linen cap

At the request of the owner, a scroll of the full repair, signed and dated was inserted into Harriet's head.  For the love of dolls and future lover's of dolls.

Warm Regards,