Flag conservation

Flag conservation
Textile conservator, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation at work

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Ukrainian Boudoir Doll

by Nicolette Cook, SAC Conservation Technician

Recently, while working on a striking Ukrainian doll, it got me thinking about the function of dolls and why they hold such fascination for many of us. The doll was affectionately named "Katya" by the current owner's grandmother. Her grandmother lived near the cultural center of Lviv in western Ukraine and was given Katya in the 1890s. Katya's cloth body joins together her head, hands and high-heeled feet of composition, a material made mostly from the mixture of sawdust, glue and wood flour. She is still wearing her original hand-embroidered traditional costume and is adorned with a beaded floral and velvet headdress with embroidered silk ribbons flowing down her back.
Repair and restoration of an antique historic doll, art conservation of clothing and doll. Ukranian doll, heirloom collection
Up-close of "Katya" before treatment.  The owner wanted the make-up substantially toned-down to be closer to the original that she remembered as a chi

However, according to her owner, the bold make-up she wore was not original, as she informed us the doll was restored in NYC in the 1960s. This was evident by the way the dark brown eyeshadow was inexpertly applied. Otherwise, she was in remarkable condition for an antique over 120 years old and only came to the studio to repair the garishly applied make-up as well as her detached foot.
ukranian doll in traditional dress, repair and restoration of dolls and clothes, art conservator in private practice, expert care.
Katya, after treatment.
repair and restoration of antique dolls, archival materials, professional art conservator, dolls and doll clothes, Ukranian doll
Close-up of Katya, after treatment.

Children have played with dolls and doll-like toys for millennium. The first were simple, vague figures made of clay, wood, stone, bone, cloth and other natural materials, presumably for ritualistic purposes. In contrast today, dolls are made out of modern plastics and porcelain composites and are barely more than commercial novelty products of a materialistic world. 

Unlike our conception of dolls today, especially the "baby doll", the oldest dolls were "lady" dolls representing well-dressed women, such as Katya. Not unlike the notion of dolls today, "lady" dolls were not only play things but were also meant to prepare young girls for their later roles as wives and mothers. However, beginning in the early 20th century, doll-making strayed away from the conservative towards the risqué, with the growing popularity of the boudoir doll. Before the 1900's, dolls wore the latest costumes and followed the fashionable trends of European courts and represented the proper European woman. They were not toys, but instead were carried by fashionable women of the time. They were posed on sofas, chairs, beds and carried at balls, dances and other social events.

Antique Boudoir Doll, Wax Over Composition
Lady Doll, Circa 1860's
Yet the traditional style did continue into the early 20th century. Consider the boudoir doll we treated in 2011. This example of a lady doll, also dating to the early 1900's, shows a figure in a conservative silk gown, but her hair and make-up are distinctly modern with dark red lips and bright blue eyeshadow. Though from an later era than Katya, this doll was in worse shape when she came to us. Her composite face was flaking away and several holes were present in her silk garment. We consolidated and inpainted her face, filled in where her hair had thinned and mended the tears.

boudoir doll repair restoration, professional art conservation by conservator Gwen Spicer
Boudoir Doll, Composite, silk and cotton,
early 20th C
Even though this conservative style survived into the new century, the modern woman, as well as her boudoir doll, was rapidly changing. The new contemporary aesthetic of shortening hairstyles and skirts, the freeing of the body from the constricting corset, as well as striking cosmetics, gave rise to the flapper and smoking dolls of the era. Their popularity grew as symbols of the provocative life of the 1920's when Prohibition was in full swing.

Flapper with her boudoir doll, circa 1920s
However while dolls in America were following the styles of the modern age, European dolls somewhat maintained their traditional roots. Like Katya, with her conservative dress and her bold make-up, the European doll did not reflect the temptations of modern society as daringly as their New World counterparts. Europe did not experience Prohibition, nor the economic boom that led to the excesses of the "Roaring Twenties." Europe was recovering after the Great War and the aesthetic followed the lines of art deco, which shared similarities to American 20s style. But Europe's dolls, in a limited sense, with their bold make-up, coquettish eyes and a provocative expression, also tested the boundaries of the ideal image of a proper lady. Despite their differences, modern boudoir dolls across the globe allowed even the everyday girl to vicariously live the lifestyle of a free modern woman.

Antique French Boudoir Doll, Composition,
silk, cloth, circa 1920s
Gwen Spicer is a textile conservator in private practice.  Spicer Art Conservation specializes in textile conservation, object conservation, and the conservation of works on paper.  Gwen's innovative treatment and mounting of flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.

1 comment:

  1. Katya looks an awful lot like a Sterling boudoir doll from the 1930s. Maybe the outfit is from the 1890s, but boudoir dolls form the 1930s were sometimes dressed in ethnic costumes.