“Wax Dolls” by Pam J.
Photos and synopsis of Jan. 16, 2016 CDC program by Pat D.
Pam brought her beautiful collection of wax dolls, many from the 1800’s, and shared with the club that she became interested in them for their rich and varied history. She presented a wonderful PowerPoint program with the history, humorous anecdotes and stunning pictures of wax dolls, from their beginning to current creations. She allowed us to hold and examine several of them and gave us a demonstration of a musical wax doll which she played Yankee Doodle by pressing along the doll’s torso. She also shared her attempts at wax over dolls, one looking fine and the other a humorous learning moment as the doll appeared to be encased as a mummy. And she gave pointers to look for in identifying our own wax dolls or those we wish to purchase. And there were the pointers on cleaning a wax doll, where she recommended the gentle use of cold cream with no additives, for removing old dirt and grime.
We thank Pam and other club members Barb C., Jeanne E., Pat D. and Carol N. who brought their wax dolls to share in the fabulous display.
History: Beeswax was the start of it all and one of the first materials to create dolls. Later on, special and secret recipes were created to keep the wax preserved and non-darkening, as well as, tints added to give the wax a more flesh like color. Wax can be tooled, sculpted, tinted to resemble and feel like skin with a soft glow.
Who made these dolls? Dollmakers from France, Germany, Italy and primarily England. The markings on the wax are mostly gone and the paper tags lost. Fortunately, there are dolls which still have their oral traditions and papers as they were passed down through the generations.
Ancient to 1800’s – Poured Wax Dolls (Thick Wax or Solid Wax) are made by pouring molten wax into a heated plaster mold. Qualities include tinted wax, with inserted hair, molded eyelids, hollow poured arms, inserted glass eyes, closed mouth in the form of portrait, statue, crèche figures, funery statues, effigy, medical organ models, religious candles and dolls, generally made in England.
1800’s to 1900’s – Wax Over Dolls were made by dipping papier mache heads in clear or tinted wax. They have molded hair or wigged, solid limbs and indistinct ears, dark pupil-less eyes, generally made from 1800 to 1900. The bodies varied such as cloth, wooden, leather, composition, Motschmann floating-joint and wax over arms attached to a cloth body. Some of these had the ability to cry by pulling a string.
1860 to 1890 – Reinforced Wax Dolls are later dolls and a combination of the earlier types. A wax head was poured and the inside was reinforced with either plaster or cloth strips soaked in composition. They were made from tinted or clear wax, with wigged or inset hair, molded or glass sleep eyes, realistic facial molding and hollow poured limbs, generally made in Germany from 1860 to 1890.
Madame Marie Taussaud (1761-1851) was well known for her lifelike wax models of famous persons. In 1777, she created her first wax figure, that of Voltaire. She remained on good terms with the French royal family until the Revolution. After a too close call of herself almost being executed, she was employed to make wax death masks of the victims including Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and Robespierre. Eventually she moved to London, presented her collection and set up her first permanent display in 1835. Upon Marie Tussaud’s retirement, her son François became chief artist for the Exhibition. He was succeeded in turn by his son Joseph, who was succeeded by his son John. Madame Tussaud’s wax museum has now grown to become a major tourist attractions in many cities around the world.
Madame Augusta Montanari (1818-1864) may be the best known wax doll-maker of all time. Montanari’s dolls were beautiful. Each strand of human hair on the doll’s head was set directly into the wax with a hot needle and then an iron roller was used to gently but firmly roll over the head. This secured the strands of hair so well that the doll’s hair could be combed without causing any damage or loss. Many also credit Montanari with creating the first character dolls as each doll was dressed for age and occasion, like an actual person. Eventually, Montanari would create wax dolls for royalty and other wealthy persons, including wax dolls representing some of Queen Victoria’s children. These are called the Royal Wax Baby Dolls.
The Pierotti dynasty began with Domenico in the 1790’s who learnt mold making and wax casting from his English wife’s family. Their son Henry perfected the poured wax method. And the granson Charles continued the family business into the 20th century.
Lewis Sorenson (1910-1985) specialized in magnificent historical life size wax figures of famous people such as Hollywood movie stars, literary characters, royalty and also his magnificent Santa Claus’s. He was one of the last of a dying breed of master dollmakers. Each doll he did was individually crafted and built in wax using his own secret formula.