Oh, That Beautiful Doll Returns to Ecumen North Branch

Eva Gale fell totally in love with the doll that her father gave her more than 80 years ago when she was only four years old. She felt such a connection that she named it “Eva Gale.”

She never stopped loving her precious doll. But time was not good to her namesake. The doll’s face was cracked, her fingers were broken and her paint was chipped.

One day a few months ago, Eva wished out loud that her favorite doll could be restored. The staff at Ecumen North Branch, where she lives, heard her wish and rallied to make it come true. Debbie Appleby, a social worker at Ecumen North Branch, knew from previous experience that Demi’s Doll Studio in St. Louis Park could do the job.

The restoration was extremely complex and time-consuming, but after 5 months, Demi Gilbertson of Demi’s Doll Studio returned the doll to Eva. And Eva, overjoyed, sang: “Oh you beautiful doll, you great big beautiful doll.”

Like Eva, Debbie was also excited about the results. “It brought tears to my eyes,” she stated. “Her face lit up. When she was given the doll, she held it close to her and was hugging her.”

Eva proudly displays the doll at the end of her bed, and takes any opportunity she can to show off her prized possession.

Below, Demi describes in her own words how she restored the doll:

Eva Gale (the doll) is best known as an Effanbee Mama doll.  Produced by the Effanbee Doll Company of New York (also known as F&B) this doll was manufactured some 80+ years ago.  She is made from what is referred to as composition; wood shavings, sawdust and glue, heat pressed into molds.  Once the molds cooled, pieces (heads, hands, feet; bodies) were then glued together, sanded, painted, and sealed.  Dolls like Eva Gale had cloth bodies stuffed with straw or raw cotton and her facial features were hand-painted. 

Composition is a medium created to produce what doll manufacturers hoped would be an unbreakable doll.  However, doll makers did not take into consideration the effects that nature would have on these dolls like humidity, heat, and a loving child’s delight at bathing their dolly.   Water is said to be the worst enemy of composition. Unless extremely well taken care of and properly stored, humidity can seep into the smallest crack in the paint causing fine lines to appear, even in the joints where the doll’s arms and legs connect to their body.  This is called “crazing.”

Humidity combined with other factors like heat or sunlight produces moisture and drying that lifts the paint and causes huge cracks. Gone unattended, these cracks can lift from the composition, curl, warp, and eventually break or drop off.

The first thing that had to be done to Eva Gale was to remove all the warped, flaking paint from her head, arms, and legs.  She was then sanded until any rough edges from the paint were smooth. A wood filler was then used to fill those areas where the composition was exposed.  After all areas were filled and smoothed, the pieces were left to cure for several days.  When cured, the head, arms, and legs were sanded down and examined for spots that needed further fill.  This process continued until I was pleased with the result and it looked ready to be primed for painting.  Depending on the doll, the fill/cure process can take 2-5 times before I am pleased with the result. 

Once ready for painting, I worked first on Eva Gale’s arms and legs. I believe she had a couple of fingers missing that needed to be re-sculpted. Once the fingers were rebuilt and sanded, the arms and legs received three layers of primer.  They then received four layers of paint (sanding in between each coat).  The limbs were then sealed with three layers of an acrylic sealer which protects the paint from moisture and also gives a soft glow to the item. 

I then moved on to Eva Gale’s head. It was difficult matching the color of her hair because I do not airbrush.  I use a dry-brush technique that I developed over the years. After numerous attempts, however, I achieved a good match and the first coat of the hair color was applied.  During the same time, the doll received her first coat of flesh-tone for the face and remainder of the head.  This process continued for several days with sanding in between each coat.  I believe in all, Eva Gale received 9-10 coats of head/hair primer and color.  The eyes, lashes, brows, mouth, and cheeks were then hand-painted with several coats.  The hair and facial tones were then blended to transition the face from the molded hair.  When dried, three coats of sealer were applied to the face.  

Eva then needed to be reassembled.  Her body, which had been completely washed and repaired, was reattached to her arms and legs. The body was stuffed the body and the head reattached. Her dress is an antique child’s dress. I replaced the gray satin ribbon with pink and accentuated with bows.  Well over 100 hours was involved in the repair of Eva Gale.