Friday, May 07, 2010

More on Early Grodner Tal Wooden Doll Bodies.........

Here is Holley just wearing her kid shoes. A lot of times, these early dolls will be stitched into their clothing, so it truly is a treat to get to study and admire the craftsmanship that went into making them. Here you can clearly see what sets my Holley apart from so many other Grodner Tal dolls~ she has original gesso to the knee (typical), on her head and shoulder plate(typical), but this extends down her arms, including the entire upper arm, and even the joints(not typical). Usually just the parts of the doll that were to show were gessoed, and this is reinforced by her original wardrobe, including a pretty short sleeved gown.

Her gesso is well crackled as you can see~ she is showing her age to be sure....but this gives us a wonderful opportunity to see what lies beneath that thick layer. Many collectors and institutions shy away from keeping early wooden dolls, as they are so very fragile. They are made from an organic, living thing, that still, to this day, 200 years after being made, breathes and moves underneath that gesso. Joints swell and contract along with the body of the doll with changes in air temperature, humidity and pressure. The most important thing when keeping early woodens, is that whatever environment they are kept in, it remains constant. constant. constant! The lighter 'painted' areas you see is where the hair-thin varnish layer has peeled away(giving us a peek at her original, brighter paint colors.)

Wooden dolls were painted with gesso as a way to seal the wood, and provide a smooth, hard, non porous surface for the paint to adhere to. Many of these dolls, especially ones made from the 1830s on, have smooth heads~meaning the only way the hair is defined is by painting it on. The carver of this doll intentionally left the individual carve marks in to define the hair. A detail so small as that, makes such a huge impression & effect on the look of the doll~ in fact, it also has aided in another little 'discovery' when her original bonnet was removed.....

Holley was originally a 'Tuck Comb' style, with a tall comb centered at the top of her head~ I have no doubt it was an elaborate one. The outline can clearly be seen, and since the area is so thick, this leads me to believe that hair was also part of the carving. It was either removed by the original maker, for whatever reason....or more likely, closely there after by the lucky young owner's father perhaps~ because little miss didn't want a grown up dollye, but a baby to play with. The majority of dolls like this were made and sold without clothing~ so the owner could dress as they liked

Above the museum accession numbers on her back is this mark, burned in. I wonder what meaning it had? Was it the carvers 3rd only doll he made? Was she number 3 of that month? Was it made by the traveling peddler, in order to keep track of his stock at market?

Love this shot of her hips and knees. The little pegs you see inserted just above the knee hold the bottom part of her legs on within the joint. If these break, off goes precious little limb~ one of the many reasons these dolls are so very fragile. These ball joints allow for a full range of movement~ not only up and down, but 360 degrees around as well....A ball jointed doll can be positioned in just about any human pose you can think of

A beautifully carved hand. The fingers deeply carved, tho not separate, are very graceful and elegantly posed. Holley was my very first early wooden doll....just over 17" tall. I thought I would never find another as precious as she....until about 2 weeks later, on the opposite side of the world.......

I was astounded when I saw this one. She was sold to me as 16"...but when she arrived, she was nearly exact to Holley in size and proportions. Could she be a sister returned home? I am inclined to think so, comparing the two side by side, there are so many similarities, it just must be so.

This is her back view~ and her burned in number is a 5...or perhaps a 57....later than Holley's, which makes sense, as her features, while still unique and very detailed, are just a smidge more hastily made. Perhaps our carver had grown so much in popularity, and demand for his dolls had risen to require him to carve at a more quickened pace. Note the wooden pegs at the joints~ elbow, hip & shoulder

Her arms are narrowed at the shoulder just as Holley's are, for ease in dressing and movement

She cant stand being tickled behind her knees :)

And these feet! hehehe I love that she has black shoes~ not as common as the red or green ones most have. But look close~ am I the only one that thinks they are on backwards? As in, right foot on the left, left foot on the right? Charming!

This is what originally made my hearte swoon~ just look at the intricately painted curls.

Comparing the heads of both dollys, Holley on the top, Precious on the bottom~ so nearly identical, even the ears are carved the same and in the same placement on the head. Both have inserted wire loops for earrings, and little dimples carved in the sides of their mouths....kind of like they are persing their lips. If you click on the picture and enlarge it, do admire the bare carving visible on Holleys head where her gesso has fallen away

Twins. Just think of it~ traveling the world over for hundreds of years, and finally being reunited again. What stories they do tell each other! At the time these two dolls were made, we could probably count the master carvers in this region of Germany on all our fingers and toes....could 2 different men have carved 2 dolls this alike? I don't think so. Eyes, nose, cheeks, lips, ears~ even the ratio of where the face is placed on the head is nearly identical.

Their arms together~ Holley on the right~ Precious' hands are a bit more spoonish, without the graceful curves, but there is a hint of fingers carved in. Just a bit more hasty in the carve. Detail has been given most time on the face

Hips joints. Nearly identical.

I love this picture! This shows the progression in fashion of the times~ Holley is on the right still, her waist a bit narrower than her sisters, but both show the high waist fashionable in the 18teens and early 20s. You can see Holly's fully gessoed upper torso and arms~ surprisingly, the gesso does not hinder the movement of the joints at her elbows or shoulders at all.
I hope you have enjoyed this little peek~ I do apologize for taking so long to get it posted!


OfficeTYPE said...

They are so incredible - just amazing to see!

Jan - Big Brown Dog Primitives said...

Rachael, this is utterly fascinating. Thank you for your careful scholarship and explanations that brought the two to life so vividly. It's amazing to me that the circle of life has brought them back together.


Anonymous said...

You're most kindly welcome. Thanks for sharing your delight and love for these sisters (or cousins?) they are so beautifully carved and painted! I love their graceful hands and feet and delicate curves and nice faces.

What a contrast to the "sometimes crudely made" described in Grodner Thal info I just read. I have a pair of old "Penny woodens" that are dear to me-- I can't tell if they are from the Dolomites, or painted in London (as in late Victorian) or American Folk Art when trying to compare with what I see online, but the one has a lovely sweet face, and almost no white on it, and the other has a pinched smile with eyes that look almost mean!
We love our dolls for their personalities and mysterious origins, nevertheless. Thanks again.

Jane Milliken said...

Greetings from Queensland, Australia

Thankyou for your detailed and precise description of your two lovely Grodner Tal dollies. They are indeed marvelous, I learned so very much. Your photography was beautifully clear & I felt your attachment towards these pair of ladies, through your endearing words.

I must make mention of an interesting incite, throughout history, up until approximately the 1860's, there were no left or right shoes. So the little lass has exactly the right shoes on her feet. One simply felt for the first shoe and put it on whichever foot came first. Thus in making the doll, the maker did likewise.


Rachael Kinnison said...

Thanks for visiting Jane! Actually, there are rare occurrences of documented left/right differentiated shoes being made as early as 18th c, but many more common in the 1820s. Even with a straight last shoe, the shoe will mold to whatever foot it is worn on, and take on a natural right or left bend. There have been many studies done re the myth of people interchanging shoes to make them last longer and it just was not done~ too hard on the feet~ it would be like constantly trying to 'break in' a pair of shoes.