A long lost art survives 70 years later

jobs yohannes dolls EDthumbDoreen Harrold lost her entire porcelain doll collection as a child during the Blitz. But more than 70 years later, she's building a similar collection for others just outside of Airdrie, using an almost time-lost art. 

“I had quite the collection,” Harrold said, remembering the dolls from when she was 12. “Two Shirley temples, three German dolls, quite big ones, and some smaller ones.”

But in April of 1942 — when Harrold lived in Norwich, England — her house was destroyed by air raids during World War II. 

“We didn’t have time to get to our shelter, which was in the garden,” she recalled. “So we went into what was our pantry, which was under our stairs in the center of the house. If we had been in our shelter we’d have been killed, but we weren’t. We were in the house.”

One of the casualties was her doll collection. jobs yohannes dollsAt age 85, Doreen Harrold is reviving the near long-lost art of porcelain doll making. She also runs teaching workshops on how to make them.

Photo by: Mary Yohannes

“We survived and moved to a different district and to new schools,” she said. “That was okay, but I never had any more dolls.”

Harrold explained that after they moved her father thought she was too old for dolls.

“Luckily my grandmother had photographs of some of the dolls,” she said. “It wasn’t until I retired and had a little money from my farm that I started buying them again. Now, of course, I make them.”

Harrold was introduced to porcelain doll making when she visited her daughter in Canada, who built them as a hobby. When she moved to Canada 14 years ago after a lifetime of farming, she followed in her daughter’s footsteps.

Harrold bought a porcelain doll business that was for sale and renamed it Porcelain Dolls by Doreen. Harrold constructs all the porcelain dolls by herself, including the clothes.

Pouring the liquid porcelain into the molds, painting features and fitting the outfits for each doll takes Harrold about a month. 

At the age of 85, Harrold also provides classes where students can learn how to make their own dolls.

However, the vibrant porcelain doll making community has steadily died out. Today, Harrold is one of the only crafters left in Alberta.

“There were a lot of us, but we’re getting very few and far between.” Harrold said of the remaining porcelain doll making community.

“The interest is gone. No one wants to buy porcelain dolls anymore, which is a shame because they will outlive any vinyl doll.”

The cost of the dolls, Harrold suggests, is a big reason why people have stopped buying them. Harrold sells her dolls from anywhere from $100 to $200. 

“It’s not a cheap process. I’ve heard people go ‘gosh they’re expensive’ but they don’t realize. What I charge for my dolls, I don’t make a profit. I’m just covering the bare minimum of the costs more or less.”

For example, a standard wig for a 16-inch doll usually costs her around $40.

Despite the challenges of keeping up her practice, Harrold simply enjoys making dolls and hopes more people will appreciate doll making as an art that can continue for decades to come.

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