Dolls get a makeover in this hospital

GOOD AS NEW: Studio manager Trilby Conway with a restored Pedigree walkie talkie doll.
GOOD AS NEW: Studio manager Trilby Conway with a restored Pedigree walkie talkie doll.

She might be in her 50s but she sure doesn't look it.

The 1950s-era Pedigree walkie talkie doll is waiting to be picked up from the Auckland Dolls Hospital and with her bouncy new hairstyle and swish new frock she looks like she just came out of the box.

The walkie talkie dolls are the most common patients at the dolls' hospital and studio manager Trilby Conway says they're just starting to show their age.

"The Pedigree walkie talkies are really getting to that age where they need restoration work. The women who had them as children are becoming grandparents now and they're wanting to get their dolls restored to pass down to their grandchildren."

The Auckland Dolls Hospital was founded in the 1940s by an Irish couple from New Lynn – years before the first walkie talkies strolled off the assembly line.

It was originally based in Karangahape Rd but closed due to the ill health of its founders. It was reincarnated in Epsom in 1995 before making its way south to Manukau and then on to Dominion Rd.

Nowadays the hospital can be found in Mt Wellington having settled into a permanent home as part of restoration company Wrightway Studios where dilapidated dolls and treasured teddies get a new lease of life.

The hospital's 19 fulltime staff see new patients daily from all over New Zealand.

"When it comes to dolls we see a lot of brother damage or a lot of the time they've had a bit of a haircut at some point in the past and they're in need of a new wig," Ms Conway says.

"Dog attacks are a common issue with teddies and if they're well-loved, they're well-worn and we see a lot that have been loved to death."

As most of the toys that make their way to the hospital are antique or vintage, the restoration artists painstakingly restore them while trying to keep everything as original as possible.

Teddies are patched from underneath – often with their own fur, delaminated dolls are stripped back, repaired and repainted and no unnecessary changes are made.

"If a doll comes in and it's missing a leg or the body's really bad then we'll replace that but we would almost never replace a head."

In the spare parts room a row of heads stares down from a shelf, a basket of arms lies nearby and old dolls are piled in a box on the floor ready to play a part in restoring their fellow broken and ageing dollies.

When restoring dolls from such a broad range of eras it certainly helps to have a variety of parts on hand as the materials used for making the toys can be very different.

"Older dolls might have a composite head and a cloth body or they could be porcelain, plastic, rubber, celluloid – we've seen all kinds of things.

"The oldest dolls we see are stuffed with straw and they tend to take in moisture and swell, splitting their seams. Old teddies can be stuffed with kapok – which isn't used any more and in the past we've come across teddies that have been stuffed with old bandages," Ms Conway says.

As well as repairing battered bodies and ageing faces, staff at the dolls' hospital often overhaul the outfits before returning them to their grateful owners.

"Clothes are the first things to go west a lot of the time so we have a lady who makes the most wonderful clothes for us," Ms Conway explains.

Once they're dressed up, freshly coiffed and looking good as new, the dolls are handed over to their owners.

"We get all kinds of people bringing in their childhood toys and we've found that women bring in their dolls and men bring in their teddies. You'll see a guy come roaring up on his motorcycle, unzip his leather jacket and pull out his loved-to-death old teddy bear."

Manukau Courier