Smoking is bad for the complexion!

by Gaby Kienitz, Textile Conservator

The infamous smoking boudoir doll from the museum’s collection needed an extreme makeover before she was ready for her debut in the recently opened Odd Indiana exhibition.

While she’s been successfully holding the same cigarette in her mouth for more than 80 years, she didn’t manage to hold onto her original good looks. I wonder sometimes what happened to her in the years before she was donated to the museum; why she came here in such terrible condition. Like the movie, Toy Story or the book, The Velveteen Rabbit, I imagine a secret and difficult life for our doll. Was she shut in an attic, left exposed to the heat of summer and the cold of the winter?

The result of her secret past life was not pretty. She was grimy overall. There is a network of deep cracks throughout her entire body, even under her hair. Worse, the “skin” of her legs had split vertically down the center of each leg and curled back. Most noticeable, however, was that her face was missing nearly half of the original paint and the surface below was cracked and embedded with grime. 

Getting the smoking doll ready for exhibition was not going to be a quick fix. Attempting gentle cleaning of her face using a tiny swab dampened with water, resulted in paint flakes detaching. Before the doll’s face could be cleaned, loose flakes of the original, remaining paint layer were stabilized and reattached by wicking a consolidant along the edges and at cracks. Exposed sub-surface on her face was carefully covered with a brushed coat of consolidant, and the areas with original paint missing were in-painted using tiny brushes under magnification. The new paint colors were blended to closely match the original colors and provide a seamless transition from the original, remaining paint, to the newly in-painted areas. 

The makeover was finished with a gentle vacuuming of her clothing and hair (oh, there was lots of dark grey dust!), hand stitched repair of holes in the front of her skirt, careful steaming of her skirt and attachment of a new waist sash.

Now she looks like she’s ready for her return to infamy.

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