- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

BURLINGTON, Iowa (AP) - The dolls don’t talk, of course.

But after years spent collecting them, the ones that come home with Martha Clyde are those that speak to her, often making a connection with their eyes, The Hawk Eye (https://bit.ly/1NAalik ) reported.

One grabbed her attention because its face carried a look of incredulity. Another came home because it had no eyes, and she could give it eyes. Some are finished, some are projects.

“Sometimes it’s the look. Sometimes the color,” Clyde said, explaining what attracts her to a new addition to a doll collection that already numbers in the hundreds. “I pick up the orphans that need TLC, tender loving care.”

Cleaning, clothing and fixing, and even creating from mixed doll parts, make her hobby more than a mere amalgamation of things.

Dolls, however, haven’t been a lifelong passion.

“When I was a little kid, of course, you always played with dolls,” said Clyde, 64. “I didn’t collect dolls until I was pregnant with my daughter.”

That was 36 years ago.

A native and lifelong resident of Macomb, Illnois, Clyde moved to Burlington in October, more than two years after meeting her companion, Ray Delmage, and more than four years after the death of her first husband, to whom she was married for almost 40 years when a heart attack took him at 59. This, after surviving her own bout with breast cancer.

The doll that started it all had been her motherinlaw’s, and was the sort of lowcost doll sold during the years of the Great Depression. It was dirty and broken after years of use, and years of neglect. Clyde, who would go on to retire after 25 years in the Macomb public schools, was at the time working in a fabric store in Macomb. A woman who came into the shop repaired dolls and made doll clothes.

“I took the broken doll to her. She fixed the foot, put a new wig on it and dressed it,” said Clyde, who over the years went on to become the goto repairwoman for members of the Western Illinois Doll Study Club.

About that same time, Clyde was attracted to a dollmaking pattern in a magazine that shared the chosen name of her daughter, Caryn. She made a few to take to a craft show and left with 30 orders.

Before those orders were filled, Clyde said she was “real tired” of that particular doll. But a broader interest in dolls took hold, helped by the formation of a doll collectors’ group that included customers from the fabric store. Clyde joined, met more people with an interest in dolls and started doing charity projects like making bears for children brought to the local hospital and attending conventions sponsored by the United Federation of Doll Clubs.

“It’s fun to go to conventions and meet others, and see what they collect,” she said.

The dolls in Clyde’s collection, which numbers in the hundreds and come in just about every shape, size and type, from bisque and porcelain to wood and tin, have more sentimental than monetary value. A lone brush with the highdollar end of the hobby was making repairs to a doll head found in a flea market, whose owner later sold it at auction for $100,000.

Valuable dolls like those, she said, generally wind up in museums like one in Kansas City, Missouri, or in the private collections of wealthy dolllovers. As dolls have become less of a passing fancy for people these days, values have fallen, Clyde said.

In most cases, repairing a doll has less to do with increasing value than “seeing it come back to life,” she said, “to a pretty state.”

Starting from her motherinlaw’s doll, as well as some of her own from when she was a girl, the collection grew over time, mostly as people gave her their dolls, or she found them in flea markets. Few, if any, were gifts. Some have been given to her by collectors who have no one else to give them to, or family members after a fellow collector has died.

There has been discussion in her club of how to dispose of dolls no one wants. One of her most prized dolls is a handmedown from a friend.

Looking at her own collection, the future is uncertain. Daughter Caryn, who lives in Macomb, hasn’t shown much interest.

“I don’t know what she’ll do with them,” Clyde said.

But that isn’t a concern right now.

The home Clyde and Delmage share is, if overrun by dolls, then tastefully so.

“Ray wasn’t sure what hit him when I moved in,” she said. “He knew I had dolls, and an interest in dolls. But he did not count on so much stuff.”

Shelves and a chair inside the front door are covered in dolls, but other rooms on the first floor have just a couple here and there. Upstairs, the bedrooms are given over to dolls on beds, along walls and in front of windows.

There still is room for more.

On the dining room table, the leather leg of a French doll is in the process of being repaired.

Fixing dolls means cleaning them, replacing wigs and sewing new clothes, but also rebuilding broken features like feet or fingers, and patching holes and gouges. At times, her late husband, John, would observe she was operating a morgue, with various doll parts spread about.

Dolls gave her a pursuit to occupy her time following her sudden widowhood, but she doesn’t call them therapeutic beyond the relaxation they bring. They are, however, a comfort, when Delmage is away.

“They make me feel like I’m not alone in the house,” Clyde said.

Since moving from Illinois, there has been less time for dolls. Her interest in genealogy continues, and lately has been directed at discerning the history of the house on Polk Street where she and Delmage live and are doing some remodeling.

Time with him is a welcome diversion from dollrelated pursuits, too. Especially when it means climbing aboard their new motor home and hitting the road for new destinations.

They’ve been to South Padre Island in Texas, and to Yellowstone National Park. And one day, Clyde hopes it will take them to Kansas City, where a certain museum beckons.

___

Information from: The Hawk Eye, https://www.thehawkeye.com

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