Anne Weaver is the skilled restorer who worked on my antique ningyo several years ago, and I asked her to be the first in a series of artist interviews I’ll be conducting this year.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m the former Assistant Director of Mingei (Mingei means art of the people in Japanese) at the Mingei International Museum in San Diego, CA. I have a BA in painting and sculpture and an MA in Art History. I own my business, Anne Weaver, Artistic Restoration, and repair just about everything.
How long have you been working in doll restoration?
12 Years. I started by repairing things for the museum, applying my abilities and education.
Where did you study or begin your work?
The Director and Founder of Mingei International, Martha Longenecker, encouraged me to work in areas that inspired me and brought me joy. Luckily I still do.
Why do you work with Japanese dolls?
I lived in Japan for 3 years as a child. I revisited Japan in 1981 while working on my MA Thesis, “The Survival of Mingei” and I have always loved the Japanese aesthetic. I also was one of those little girls who loved dolls.
Tell us a little about your procedure.
Each repair, restoration, or conservation is different. My goal is to keep the doll as close to the original as possible. Preserving the patina is very important, however, if the repair is to rescue the doll from becoming trash instead of treasure, I choose treasure. I once met a famous restoration man, Leon Sevilla, in New York. I said, “Your studio looks like my kitchen with the same supplies.” He replied, “Whatever works, I use.” Sometimes repairs call for unusual techniques and materials. Some museums want the repair to be visible, but most collectors want the scars to disappear.
What do you suggest for someone looking to have a doll restored?
Why, contact me, of course! The owner should express exactly what they would like done. The value of the doll, if properly done, should remain the same. Rarity and age also affect the outcome and value. I see no reason for a collector to display a doll that is in such poor condition that it is not visually enjoyable.
Talk about Japanese doll body composition: cloth, wood, gofun, hair, etc.
The materials used are as close to the original as possible. Doll hair comes from a supply company. If the hair is artificial, I purchase it at a fishing tackle store. Gofun is a bigger challenge as it is oyster shell and not readily available. I use Red Devil Premixed Grout as I have found it is a good surface and is sandable, paintable, seals well and blends in with the original gofun. For the sawdust that is frequently used in Japanese doll making I use, well, sawdust.
What do you suggest for someone looking to work in your field?
In my university days, degrees in conservation did not exist. Now there are schools that offer advanced degrees in the field. Worldwide, this is a field that is in demand.
Books you suggest reading?
Collecting Japanese Antiques by Alistair Seton and Ningyo, the Art of the Japanese Doll by Alan Scott Pate are wonderful for acquainting oneself with dolls. The internet also contains a vast amount of information. The more you know about your doll, the more you understand what it is made of. This is a good way to find classes in doll making, doll supplies, and repair artists in your area.
What makes your work uniquely yours?
I think the love of my work and the care taken in its success shows in the final product.
Do you do all the restoration work yourself, or do you work with other specialists?
I have two people who are my saviors. One is a retired shop teacher who is a genius with metal and one is an artist who carves and paints.
Where has your work taken you?
I work at home and on site. Not only do I get to travel but I also meet wonderful people. I have never had a client that I didn’t enjoy. I am privileged to see collections, homes, and meet people who have enriched my enjoyment of life. In fact, I met my current partner when I repaired one of his paintings years ago.
What risks are there in your work? Special challenges?
The bane of my existence is a poorly done, previous repair. It is often more work to undo the damage than the new repair. This question is also very pertinent to my meeting Carol. The kimono on her doll literally dissolved because of the dyes and age of the material. No amount of cleaning saved it. This is a time when it should have remained dirty. Another horror story occurred when I cleaned a large milk glass candlestick. It had been repaired with reversible white glue and when washed, yes it was absolutely filthy, it became 28 pieces instead of three. Luckily all was well in the end.
Tell us about a special project you worked on. What did you enjoy about it?What was challenging about it? How did you feel while it was in process? How do you feel looking back on it now?
I love this question because one special repair was to a metal 1950s TRASH CAN. It had a cardinal (bird) painted on the side. The can was covered with rust and the bottom was gone. The bird decoration had been painted by the client’s mother for her mother. Each had passed it down before they passed away. Now the client, son of the 3rd owner, wanted to gift it to his children. My metalworking friend put in a new bottom, and I removed the worst of the rust while keeping the aged patina and touched up the bird. It now will live on and the story was wonderful.
Thank you for sharing with us, Anne Weaver!
This has been great fun. Thank you for the treat.