Wednesday, November 2, 2022

An Izannah Walker Doll Conserved: Before and After

Most antique dolls should be left alone. Sometimes an antique doll comes along, though, having already been repainted and having lost some of the spirit of the original maker's hand. In this case, the careful removal of newer repaint and shoring up of the original doll's structure may be what is best for the doll. Please read more on "Thoughts on Conserving Izannah Walker Dolls" at the following link:

 Doll before and after conservation above.  

When Edyth O'Neill saw this antique Izannah Walker doll for sale, she could see that the doll's face had already been repaired and repainted. The doll had obviously been well played with and loved, as it has many repairs to the arms, and replacement legs. These repairs could have been made long ago. They might be a huge improvement to what the doll was, we cannot know. But some of these prior repairs were out of line with Izannah Walker's design sense, to Edyth's eye. So Edyth purchased the doll to try to bring back some of Izannah's design which had been muted. 

Edyth O'Neill brings many necessary skills to the table in reviving the spirit of her antique Izannah Walker doll.  This is not a task for everyone who can hold a paintbrush.  Edyth's prerequisite skills include: 

  • Edyth is an artist of many decades. As an artist, she has experience using oil paints. In the 1980's, she painted portraits of children in the spirit of early folk art paintings. She has continued to paint and study for the past 40+ years. So she knows how oil paint behaves.
  • Edyth has collected antique dolls for more than 50 years, and studied Izannah Walker dolls intently through the years, and owns original Izannah Walker dolls. 
  • Edyth is a dollmaker of many decades, having painted many dolls with oil paints. 
  • Edyth has extensive knowledge of antique textiles through her work as an antiques dealer, along with her husband Jack. 

Please take the time to read Edyth's post on her blog. She has great pictures of the doll as it was unpacked, and some of the doll after she restored it: 

Here are the seller pictures, before the conservation work began: 




Since Izannah's dolls were designed for everyday play, the dolls often have damage or wear at the tip of the nose, as well as the limbs. The nose is the high point on the face, and is often found bumped, frayed  or sometimes worn nearly off, probably from children dressing and undressing the dolls with the doll face down. Anyone who has seen a child actually play with a doll knows the dolls are dragged around by arms and legs, sometimes with the head dragging the ground. Izannah's dolls were marketed for this kind of play, per the advertisement that Kathy Duncan discovered.  A selling point for Izannah's dolls?  No need to worry about them with "their chief merit consisting in their ability to stand rough usage and abandonment serenely."

This doll had seen such play! The nose of the doll had been rebuilt previously with material in the bridge between the eyes. A little too much material was used. And the nose had an unfortunate point to it, which is not a design feature of Izannah's. Some dolls have been repaired and built up with epoxy in the past, which is next to impossible to remove. Edyth took a chance in purchasing this antique but repaired Izannah Walker doll without knowing if the replacement nose had been made from epoxy. She was able to partially remove the built-up material in the nose area. The doll had also lost some underlying material and paint in the area beneath the eyes which underscored the extra material at the bridge of the nose. 

Edyth's intent was to remove material that was not original, and to protect areas that seemed original to the doll. No original part of the doll was removed. Where the doll seemed to have lost material, she used paperclay to build up the area, which is easily removed, as opposed to epoxy. 

The addition of paperclay below the eyes 

allows the doll's eyes to feel more part of her face. 

Paperclay fills a worn away area at the top of the head. 

As Edyth says, the doll arrived having "danced away" her original feet. And the replacement feet were well used. We know a child and a doll love to dance! The replacement legs were old, but were not the shape of Izannah Walker doll feet.  Edyth says, "the dolls replacement feet have worn out, and she has a third pair from me now. This has been a very busy doll, raising active children."  

Edyth removed the worn-out replacement legs, and stored them away to move forward with the doll. She made new replacement legs with a pattern that I (Dixie Redmond) drafted from my antique Izannah Walker doll. The remaining parts of the lower legs show original paint and are slipped into the new additions like sleeves, and remain accessible by the removal of a few threads. The legs were painted with cues taken from original paint seen on the doll, as well as inspired by Edyth's favorite Izannah Walker dolls. 

Edyth named the doll Evangeline, which means "good news". 
Good news, indeed! 

And now the before and after fun begins! 

Evangeline now more fully reflects the intent of Izannah's design. Her spirit has been brought forth again. The seller of the doll, who is selling their mother's doll colllection, had this to say about Evangeline's improvement: 

"Wow, I love what you have done! Her face looks so much smoother and more natural. You did fantastic work. And I love the picture of her in the new dress in the wagon with the pumpkin. It made me emotional to see that, I almost cried a little bit. My mother would have set her up like that, and I know she would be so happy to see what you have done. Thank you."

Here is the doll making herself at home in Edyth's house.  

Edyth's sense of design is always at work! 

The brown dress and pink apron are new clothing made by Edyth. 
Evangeline's original dress and three pieces of underwear are carefully stored.

Orange dress temporarily borrowed from a doll
made by Robin Lakin of Robin’s Egg Bleu. 

Evangeline is thankful to be in her new home.  

She is aptly named, because it really was 

"good news" for her when she traveled to Edyth's house! 

Dixie's note:  If you have an Izannah Walker doll you are thinking of selling, 
in any condition, please contact me at Northdixie AT

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