Meiji Ningyo Restoration, part VIII

Home at last.

The little fellow arrived shortly after my previous post, but I had mixed feelings about his restoration and it’s taken some time for me to sort things out in my head to where I felt comfortable writing about it. If you’re just joining this series, click here to read part 1 and see how he looked before the restoration work began. Click on the images to enlarge them and see the doll in more detail.

First of all, Anne’s work is really beautiful. His face looks much better than the cracked and poorly glued mess that it was! His eyes are clearer and now appear to be pleasantly brown, rather than murky blah. Anne also patched several other small body dings and cracks, giving him back at least a little of his youthful appearance. The color is a bit uneven, which makes sense, really. Gofun is white when it’s fresh, and patinas with age and contact with sunlight, dirt and oil, such as from a child’s playful hands.

His patched areas are definitely fresh, whereas certain areas, such as his feet, have been exposed to much more age-inducing abuse, and show quite a lot of discoloration. It’s not so stark as you might imagine, but you can definitely tell where there has been restoration work done, and I’m alright with that.

The weird thing was, once I lifted him out of the well-padded box that he was in and held him again, it was as if he’d lost some of the energy that drew me to him in the first place. Maybe I’m drawn to things that are broken or damaged in some way? While he looks beautiful sitting in his glass case (and certainly smells better than before), I feel some of his charm is gone. Maybe I need to take him out and play with him a little myself to get it back?

The textiles had undergone their own separate restoration. The two juban (under kimono) look terrific. The new black silk collar on the bottom layer is perfect, and the white juban, which didn’t need much more than a cleaning, is fresh and lovely. The hakama looks a bit brighter and less creased in the wrong places (still creased in the right places!), and the soft obi looks good, too.

The state of the blue kimono is what broke my heart. I knew it had been fragile, very dirty and in need of stabilization, but the stabilization work done was so extensive that I feel it is lost. The shoulder and waist tucks (visible in the white juban) that had been mostly taken out when I first found him still need to be put back in, but now I’m afraid to touch it, lest the silk further degrade in my hands.

This kimono was subjected to sun, dirt and dust for decades, and it shows. Traditionally, dolls such as this would have been prized possessions in the home and only displayed during certain times of the year, otherwise kept out of direct sunlight. Even if that had been this fellow’s lot in life, silk fiber typically degrades to the point of disintegration after a century, and he’s been around somewhat longer than that.

The blue silk is very fine, which makes it even more likely that it would be the first to go; second, if you consider the black collar that needed to be replaced. The delicate artistry evident on the sleeves and hem will fade even further eventually, and the family crests on the back and shoulders are lucky to still be evident at all, I think. There are areas where the silk has sun bleached so much that it’s more white than blue.

All in all, it’s been worth the wait. While I am saddened by the condition of the blue kimono, it gives me an opportunity to make him a new one. Goodness knows I have plenty of kimono fabric on hand, including men’s fine brown pinstripes and more rustic weaves. His new kimono many not be as formal or as elegant as his old one, but it will at least still be authentic to some degree. If nothing else, he will have a change of clothes for casual outings.

… And maybe a visit to the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. ohiokimono says:

    He is stunning, I would donate him to a museum.

  2. Melanie says:

    He turned out wonderful, regardless of his shabby kimono. What a treasure!

  3. Nelly says:

    I just stumbled upon your blog, and I just read the whole saga of you and the little doll! He looks amazing, and I’m pleased that the world has people like you to take care of these precious objects.

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