- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Heidi Phelps wants people to dream when they visit her home. The 67-year-old doll maker, who runs her studio, Heidi’s Puppenstube, from her basement, displays porcelain dolls throughout her house in Vienna.

Every table, shelf and cabinet holds a fairy, angel, Santa Claus, jester or jack-in-the-box. She has created everything from miniature figurines to a life-size woman named Lady Grace who wears Mrs. Phelps’ blue wedding dress. One of her dolls sits on a carousel horse, while another rests in a highchair. Still another wears a kimono.

“It’s like living in a dream world,” Mrs. Phelps says. “Every time you’re sad, the dolls make you feel happy. Dolls keep you young and vibrant.”

Although many little girls would like to have a collection of porcelain dolls in their rooms, the creations can be placed in other areas. When displayed tastefully, dolls can add color and character to a home.

The figurines bring personality to a room, says Karin Goulian, executive director of the Doll Artisan Guild, based in Oneonta, N.Y. The nonprofit organization has about 6,000 members around the world who make porcelain dolls.

“The dolls blend right in with the beauty of the home,” Mrs. Goulian says. “It’s an interesting feeling when you make a doll and can display it in your home and tell your friends you made it with your bare hands.”

Porcelain, which originated in China, was brought to Europe by Marco Polo and eventually made its way to the American Colonies, Mrs. Goulian says. The first porcelain dolls, therefore, came from Europe, mostly France and Germany.

Although antique porcelain dolls are rare today, the durability of the porcelain has allowed some of them to exist in good condition still, she says.

If people are interested in antique furniture, they might consider complementing it with dolls from a similar time period, she says. The costumes worn by the figures reflect the era in which the dolls were made. The price of older dolls varies, depending on their condition.

Mrs. Phelps, a modern doll maker, has won two of the highest awards given by the Doll Artisan Guild, Mrs. Goulian says. In 1996, she won the Professional Millie for her Sissi, Empress of Austria, doll. In 1999, she won the Professional Maggie for her Cleopatra.

Both of the dolls, with their ribbons and trophies, are enclosed in a glass cabinet in the entrance to Mrs. Phelps’ home.

In a new room Mrs. Phelps is creating, the dolls, which sometimes have electrical or mechanical components or are attached to music boxes, will be protected from daily wear and tear. They will rest in cabinets built into the wall with special lighting for display purposes.

Only when Mrs. Phelps decides to show her dolls to visitors will they be exposed to direct light.

“I want to preserve the dolls for generations to come,” Mrs. Phelps says. “Even when I’m gone, people can enjoy them.”

In her basement, Mrs. Phelps has a workshop with a kiln, where she teaches students how to make porcelain dolls. Shelves are lined with molds, doll parts, glass eyes, costumes, wigs, paint brushes and bodies without heads, reminiscent of Santa’s workshop.

She has many of her own works in progress throughout the studio, soon to be her new prize possessions. Although she sells her dolls from time to time, she usually keeps them for herself. She says it’s hard to part with them after putting so much effort into making them. Even though she has stepchildren, she doesn’t have any biological children and considers her dolls her “children.”

“You don’t have to feed them,” Mrs. Phelps says. “I only have to dust them every now and then.”

Without special cabinets for displaying their dolls, collectors should make sure they clean the figures before the dust shows, says Lynne Stierman, owner of the Once Upon a Time shop in Vienna.

Placing a glass dome over a doll is one possibility for keeping the dust away, Ms. Stierman says. Using a hair dryer to blow the dust off dolls or brushing them with a feather duster are other options.

Washing the dolls’ clothes, however, is not a good idea, she says. The fancy clothes are not meant to be washed. The outfits are too fragile, and the process could ruin them, she explains.

Apart from protecting dolls from dust, making sure they don’t break is of utmost importance, she says. Placing the dolls on a stand is the best way to secure them from falling. People with dogs and cats should make sure the pets don’t accidentally hit the dolls.

If they are placed on a chair for display, the dolls should be tied in place to make sure there isn’t a mishap, especially if it’s a rocking chair, she says.

“You lose the value if you repair a doll,” Ms. Stierman says. “You can shine a black light in any porcelain doll’s head and tell if it’s been repaired or broken.”

One way of safely displaying the dolls is to create a separate room for them, says Kristin Thor, a 65-year-old doll maker in Warrenton, Va. She also gives lessons.

Ms. Thor has designed a doll room in her home that’s set up like a dining room. The furniture, which would fit a 4-year-old child, is to scale with the dolls.

About 20 of Ms. Thor’s porcelain creations fill the room. Some of them sit at the table, while other dolls rest on love seats. Still other figures stand on the floor. Artificial cakes are set on the table with English china, French crystal and silver.

“Even though I’m a doll maker, I didn’t want my house to have dolls throughout the entire place,” Ms. Thor says. “Most of my dolls that are displayed outside the doll room are displayed under glass so they don’t collect dust.”

Sometimes dolls can enhance a room’s overall motif, says Terrie Strohecker, owner of TJ’s Dollmakers in North East, Md. She is a doll maker and teacher of the craft.

Dolls are featured throughout her home, such as beside the fireplace and in her bedroom. Mrs. Strohecker placed a boy doll accompanied by a John Deere tractor in her sons’ bathroom. The entire room is based around the figurine and his machine.

“I enjoy having dolls in the home and looking at them,” Mrs. Strohecker says. “They add to the theme of a room and make it feel a little more cozy.”

Porcelain doll collectors may find the hobby can become addicting, says Suzanne Armetta, owner of Jade Co. Doll Hospital in Waynesboro, Va. Her company makes and restores dolls.

“Dolls bring a lot of life to a home,” Ms. Armetta says. “Sometimes, people like to live in a fantasy world.”

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