Restoring a Schoenhut Wood Doll

While researching the history of early American dolls for my book, Through Their Eyes – The American Doll’s View of History* , I came upon the story of the early wooden dolls. While most of the American made wood dolls came from New Engand, like the Joel Ellis and Mason & Taylor and other jointed wood dolls, it was the large multi-jointed wooden dolls made by Albert Schoenhut in Philadelphia PA that really drew my attention.

In 1872 Schoenhut established the A. Schoenhut Company and made toys and pianos. In July 1909 Schoenbut applied for a patent for a jointed figure, which was the basis for his spring loaded joints of the now famous Schoenhut doll. While the bodies were wood, the heads were either machine carved wood or molded composition. Eyes were both inset and indaglio. The elder Schoenhut died in 1912, a year after his now famous doll appeared. His son, Harry E. Schoenhut continued the manufacture of the doll until around 1924 when Japanese manufactured dolls forced many American and European doll companies out of business.

I was determined to have a Schoenhut in my collection, but I soon learned that they are rather costly, ranging from $150 to $600 and even more depending on condition. There was no shortage of Schoenhuts for sale online, most were out of my price range until I found a seller that was offering one in pretty bad condition. The paint had almost all worn off the head and some of the features like the nose and lips were chipped away. This is not surprising as most the Schoenhut doll heads were composition. Fortunately the body was not bad although one lower limb had broken off.

In a way the broken leg gave me a glimpse into the leg joint of the doll…otherwise all the other joints including the feet, hands, elbows, shoulders were really tight (See photos below for the original condition of the doll.)

Normally I like to do minimal restoration on dolls, but this poor doll really needed a makeover. Shown below are the various steps I took to restore my Schoenhut…using various tricks I have learned over the years!

Original condition of the Schoenhut showing the badly worn head and broken leg.

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Paint badly chipped from composition head

First, with a damp cloth, I removed the surface dirt…no soap or solvent…just water.

Next I chipped away the rest of the paint from the head. Using medium grade sandpaper I smoothed some of the rough spots…on both the fully exposed head and some areas on the body.

Using a water based wood filler, I re-sculpted the lips and lower nose area. Using a dremel with a very small grinding head I cleaned out the eye area, reshaping the eye ball and socket.

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Next I made a slurry from the wood filler and “painted” the entire head…filling in all the small cracks and fissures. I sanded the head again and applied another coat of slurry. I let this dry overnight to make sure the wood filler was completely dry.

Next I applied a coat of gesso…used by artists to prepare their canvases. Gesso also fills in small cracks. Time for a coat of paint. I used a flesh tone acrylic, but here’s a tip. Most regular acrylics will change color as they dry. The acrylics used to paint glass and metal surfaces however dry true to color. And while they cost a little more, it is worth it as not only does the color dry true, but it also flows on evenly and brush lines are nearly invisible. One more check for any rough spots and then a second coat of paint.

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As the original paint was so “oranged” I decided to paint the entire body. Note I attached a velcro “splint” after inserting a rod to hold the two parts of the leg together.   While the leg will not bend at the joint, the doll will stand as it designed to do.

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Using a picture I downloaded from on-line, I copied the eye features, and lip shape. The teeth is a line of white too small to sculpt, but visible. I sealed the entire body and head with a satin acrylic, using a gloss for the eyes.

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Next the wig and clothes…I know my restoration is very self evident, but as I noted above, the doll was in really poor condition and I am more interested in having a doll that’s nice to look at than a really beat up ugly one.

Here is my finished Schoenhut

…along with a surprise I got for Mother’s Day…a second Schoenhut!

Now my 2 Schoenhuts stand side by side…a wish doubly fulfilled!

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*My book, Through Their Eyes – the American Doll’s View of History can be ordered directly from me by sending $19.95  to Lynn Nalven, Mountain Artisans, LLC, PO Box 64, Obernburg, NY 12767.  Shipping is free


My Sock Snowman

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There are many instructions on the Internet of how to make a “snowman” from a sock. I found the best kind of sock is a women’s ankle sock for the snowman and children’s colorful sock for cap & scarf.

You will also need beads for eyes and nose, string or heavy thread, rice ( two 1 lb. Bags will make three snowmen) glue and any other stickers or decoration you like.

Here is my version of the “sock snowman”

  1. Cut the top of an ankle sock off evenly across the top.
  2. Fill the sock 1” from the top. Gather the top and using a heavy thread tie off as shown in picture.
  3. Tie around the middle of the sock to make the top and bottom of the snowman.
  4. Use small black and orange beads for eyes and nose…glue on face. You can anchor the beads and trims with straight pins

Next make a cap & scarf:

  1. Cut the top off a child’s decorative ankle sock…cut even across. Tuck under the edge and fold up to make a cap.
  2. Cut the other sock along the sides, leaving the toe fold. This will make a matching scarf.
  3. Glue buttons onto the bottom part of snowman.
  4. Add pompoms or other decorations

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My New Doll History Book

In August of this year I launched my doll history,  entitled  Through their Eyes – The American Doll’s View of History.

By weaving the story of the American doll with descriptions of historical events of the day, I try to show how various social, economic and cultural factors influenced the development the doll from its early beginnings in the American northeast to a thriving industry in the mid-twentieth century. It is fascinating to see how the doll, as plaything, grew in popularity and turned into such a cultural phenomenon.

Here is a quote from the Preface:

This not just a history of dolls. This is history as seen through the eyes of the doll, metaphorically speaking of course. Dolls cannot really see! But imagine if they could! What would they tell us they saw throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries in America?

This 135 page book is illustrated with color and black&white pictures and photographs and would be appropriate for young adults as well as adult readers.

For price and order details, please contact me via this website or email me at  Mention my site Catskill Dolls for a discount .front cover final

Making a Quick Doll Body for a Baby Doll Head

baby suit finished

Here is a quick, little project for a snowy afternoon, especially if you have a baby doll head with no body.

Our local doll club tackled the dilemma of the bodiless baby head and created a one piece baby or snow suit…stuffed with pellets and polyester to make the body. The body was then attached to the hapless baby head and topped with an attached or separate hood.   Below are instructions and illustrations along with a printable pattern.

Materials needed:

  • ¼ yard ( for pattern size shown here) of fleece, flannel* or thick sweatshirt material (use the soft inside)

* if the flannel is thin you may consider lining with muslin or other light interfacing

  • Cardboard for a template
  • ½ yard of elastic thread
  • Strip of Velcro (optional for hood)

Step 1: Print out the pattern by “select” and “print” from this site.

Once copied, resize the pattern either in a graphics program or use the grid method. Select the size of your fabric to accommodate your revised pattern dimensions.

The original size for this article is for a 6 inch body, neck to toes.

Step 2: Outline the paper pattern after resizing onto a piece of shirt cardboard. Cut out to make a     template. In this case, half of the template is used to ensure both halves are even. (Fig. 1)

Step 3:   Draw a pencil outline around the template on the wrong side of one half of the piece of flannel. If the flannel is thin and you are adding a lining, you can draw the pencil outline on one piece of the muslin or lining material. (Fig. 2)

Step 4: Fold the flannel in half so the right sides are facing. If using a lining, sandwich the folded flannel in between two sheets of lining material.  Otherwise just fold the flannel. (do not cut the pieces yet)

Step 5: Machine stitch along the pencil outline, through all the layers. Leave an opening at the neck and 1 ½ inches along the side. (Fig. 3) Now cut out the suit ¼” from the sewn seam. You should have a piece as in Fig. 4.

Step 6: Turn the suit right side out. ( Fig. 5) Stuff the legs and if desired make a small pouch of pellets to be inserted for the baby’s bottom. (Fig. 6)

Step 7: Stuff the baby’s arms and loosely & stuff the chest area.

Step 8: Run a stitch around the neck opening with the elastic thread. (Fig. 7) Insert the baby’s head in the neck and pull the elastic thread tight, holding the head in. (Fig. 8)

Step 9: Finish stuffing the body through the hole left on the side of the baby body. Sew up the hole.

Make a small hat or hood to attach at the base of the back neck of the suit. Decorate suit with buttons, sew on appliqués or other trims, such as fur.

Pattern for baby body suit

Pattern for baby body suit

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Playing Catch-Up!!

Wow…the format of this blog site sure has changed…haven’t been here in a while…been so busy with the summer shows and events  (as I am sure others were too!).

However, I am going to try to update my “categories” for those of you who are still interested in dolls and doll collecting.  Lots have happened in the industry in the past year or so…so let’s give this a try!

Old Fashioned Dolls

I came across a pattern for a simple doll that is reminiscent of the “old fashioned” rag dolls – dolls that were hand sewn  from scraps of fabric, usually left over from a hand made dress or curtain.   Here are two I recently finished…one is a gift for a friend and the other will be added to my rag doll collection.

The dolls measures 14″.  The head and torso are one piece with sewn on legs and arms.  All the outer clothes and facial features are hand sewn…there were often no sewing machines available so everything was hand stitched.  The fabrics are vintage for the dresses and pantaloons, but the hats are new.

They were fast and fun to make!

Remember the Marottes?

This past spring, my doll club, the Catskill Mountain Doll Club was trying to decide on a project that would include making doll heads…but no one was interested in crafting – or buying the expensive – bodies that go with small porcelain head. So we decided to make “marotte” dolls!

Marotte is a French word which means “frivolous amusement”.  Such was the name given to the toy made in France in the last half of the 19th century.  Essentially a marotte doll is a doll’s heads attached to a dowel or stick…adorned with various decorations and a music box.

When the stick is swung around, it activates the musical movement producing an attractive effect combined with the bells decorating the pointy ends of the gaudy dresses.  The heads and costumes often depicted a jester or harlequin.

Painting of a boy with a marotte doll.

Club  members cleaned and china painted a variety of milette heads and used these as the basic head for their marottes.  Below are four marottes I made:

The red and b&w marottes heads are cast from the “Cocoa” mold by Seeleys.

The gaudy outfits swing freely when the dowel is twisted…there is the sound of bells…a music button was added to two of the dolls to afford music as well.

They were fun to make and really offered the opportunity for creativity!






Busy Spring!

Hi Doll Lovers,

Boy this spring has sure been busy!  What with the gardening and the spring shows…not to mention the budding rummage sales!

I have added a couple new posts under  my categories “porcelain dolls” and “shows and events” which you might want to check out.

For this post, however, I want to report on our visit to the beautiful Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania for the annual Maggie Iacona luncheon.   What a confluence of delightful experiences!

Three of my fellow doll club members and I made the 3-4 hour ride to Kennett Square, PA to join Maggie Iacona her family and over 70 friends for Maggie’s 2012 “Too Many Hats” luncheon.   Maggie showcased some of her beautiful hand sculpted and felt finished dolls.  A wonderfully prepared lunch was enjoyed by all,  including noted doll artists Alice Leverett and Robert Tonner!  Emily Iacona showed her original  documentary on Maggie’s work and premiered her stop action short about Alisa and her ‘Too Many Hats!’

We made some new friends, and I even won a hand crafted dress by Maggie herself!

After lunch we toured some of the Longwood Gardens, part of the original DuPont estate off US Route 1.  The weather was perfect and the hot house plants were in full bloom.  It was too much to do in one day, so we will probably go back next year!

Maggie Iacona is shown here holding Alisa, the 11 inch “Maggie Made” souvenir doll, along with 3 new friends (left) Janice Palumbo from Northport, L.I. (right with hat) Heather Sterckx from Oley, PA and Karen Scola, from Centereach, L.I.

My 3 “old friends” (l) Diane Mues, Gladys VanWagner both from Sundown and Karen Bartoletti, Olivebridge, New York.

The Fountain Garden at the magnificent Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA


Upcoming Doll Events:

Listed here are some of the shows being held in the tri-state area.  Other listings for the entire US can be found on the Internet

July 15: Ewing, NJ. 33rd Annual Christmas in July Doll & Bear Show. W. Trenton Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1. Delaware Valley Doll Club of NJ. 609-259-3428. 609-371-1902.

July 21, 2012 New York, NY, 11 am-6pm : Black Doll and Art Show,  the Riverside Church, South Hall,  490   Riverside Drive New York, NY 10027 The show offers an affordable selection of black dolls and art  not found on the shelves of big box, mall or department store shelves. This year’s show theme is “Celebrating Summer-Time Fantasy.” Admission is a nominal $5.00 and is free for children eleven years and younger  Contact: Sharon Alexander, 212-594-2455

August 12, 2012, Teaneck, NJ THE DOLL SHOW (Including Teddy Bears) 1799 TeaneckRd.,  Teaneck Armory, Teaneck, NJ ,  Free Expert Doll & Bear Appraisals   Rona or Jesse Kohler 352-527-6666

August 25, 2012Olean, NY. 3rd Annual Dolls & Bears & Miniatures Show. Knights of Columbus Hall. Southwestern York-Penn Doll Club. Wende Kenyon. 585-466-3037.

September 8, 2012: Alexander, NY. Doll Show. Firemen’s Recreation Hall. Fairland Dolls & Toys. Sue Spin. 585-591-2841

September 28-October 3, 2012, New Milford, CT Izannah Walker Doll Making Retreat, 172 Aspetuck    Ridge Road, New Milford, CT Artist Paula Walton is hosting a doll making retreat, in celebration of famed doll maker Izannah Walker’s 195th birthday. Part 1: Making Reproduction Izannah Walker Molds, Pressed Cloth Heads and Bodies and Part 2: Painting in the style of Izannah Walker, Constructing the Doll, and Reproduction Dressmaking. Participants may sign up for just one, or both sessions. Students taking the second class may finish a doll started in Part 1 or opt to make their doll using a pre-molded head and pre-sewn body parts made by Paula  Paula Walton 860-355-5709

Octobert 13, 2012, Albany, NY  36th Annual Antique Doll Show & Sale, Collectibles, Minatures St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox Church, Albany, NY  Jody Pomato 518-399-8287

October 14, 2012, Hershey, PA A Doll for All Seasons  Granada Gym, 30 E. Granada Avenue
Hershey, PA  Doll show and sale featuring dolls, toys, and teddy bears. Hours 10AM to 4PM. . Proceeds benefit the Central PA Food Bank and educational programs of the Central Penn Doll Collectors Club a member of UFDC (United Federation of Doll Clubs). $4.00 Admission. Children 12 and under free, must be with an adult Contact Dotti: 717-761-3609

Bratz is Going Bald Too!

Not to be outdone by Mattel,  MGA Entertainment has announced that its Bratz dolls are going bald too!  Under the banner , “True Hope”, MGA is releasing three bald Bratz dolls, three bald Moxie Girlz dolls, and one bald Moxie Boyz doll.   Unlike Mattel’s Barbie, however the Bratz bald dolls will be offered to the general public for sale.   In addition, MGA is donating $1 for every doll sold to support cancer research at the City of Hope organization.

Apparently, Mattel is planning on distributing 10,000 of their bald Barbies directly to children stricken with cancer and other diseases, but there is an estimated 12,000 children suffering from diseases which cause them to lose their hair.

In contrast, Bratz is going to be appearing in retail stores in June, but a portion of the sales of the new dolls will be donated to City of Hope, a research, education and treatment center for cancer and other life threatening diseases.


Both these doll companies should be lauded for their efforts to help sick children understand that losing their hair does not make them less “beautiful.”  It is a shame that the courtroom showdowns between these two major doll companies has cast a shadow on this and other of their doll products.  I, for one, think there is enough room in this arena for both dollmakers and I say “kudo’s” to them both.