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Bonanzaville U.S.A.; Doll doctor shares her expertise during Pioneer Days

Dolls have always been special to Pam Terfehr of Christine. So much so, she went to school to learn how to become a 'doll doctor' to repair and restore her own antique collection. "I have loved dolls all my life. I was the kind of kid whose doll went where I went and now that I'm retired I wanted to be doing something I enjoyed, so I went to school actually to learn how to fix and restore my own dolls."

The end result was the realization of Treasure Gardens Doll Hospital, operated solely by Pam, the name inspired by her dolls which she describes as her "treasures" and the beauty of her 11 flower gardens that are easily in sight of her patio where she usually sits and does her doll restoration work during the summer months.

Pam will be happily sharing her expertise August 15 and 16 at this year's annual Pioneer Days as she oversees Bonanzaville's wonderful antique collection, discussing the history and the costumes of the dolls in the Main Museum area.

Likening the 'doll school' experience to an apprenticeship, she studied under the watchful eye of doll master Gary Zowatzka who lives in northern Wisconsin.

The schooling wasn't a lengthy, traditional classroom process - instead it involved studying as many days as it took to learn the class.

For Pam, it was one week well spent, followed by successive return trips for other aspects of doll restoration she yearned to learn.

Her specialty is composition dolls - comprised of ground up sawdust, bone and glue mixed into paste and poured into molds to make the dolls.

"I repair and restore any type of doll, but most of my schooling is in composition and French and German bisque dolls," she explained. The latter were made in the late 1800s and early 1900s, comprised of wooden ball jointed or kid leather bodies with the hands and head usually bisque (unglazed porcelain).

Pam presently has a couple hundred dolls that are the offshoot of her childhood years, but ironically they are not her original collection.

Pam tells an interesting, but sad, story of how her dolls were accidentally sold at an auction sale after being left in a cedar chest specifically for her to enjoy later in life.

After realizing this loss, she set about 're-collecting' dolls she could once again love as her own. "I would see all these little ugly dolls at various places and nobody was loving them anymore, so I bought them and took them home." Pam said they truly were ugly with their little faces rotted out, so she finally decided to go to school "to make them look nice."

Countless hours go into restoring each doll, with about eighty hours of hand work required on a fully restored composition doll. "It becomes such a lengthy process," Pam explained, "because you complete one step and then have to allow plenty of drying time. If I absolutely had to get a doll done in two weeks flat, I could, but it would mean putting in long intense hours."

She is presently involved at Bonanzaville repairing their collection and will be sharing her doctoring skills during Pioneer Days for the public to see. "The philosophy of doll restoration is retaining the antiquity and integrity of the doll by doing as little work as possible to preserve that integrity," Pam said.

Ensuring that dolls are stored correctly is also extremely crucial to the longevity of their working parts. Contrary to what people think, laying dolls on their back is not the right thing to do. "Their eyes are weighted," Pam noted, "so two years later when you take them out, their eyes will look funny because they do not move properly anymore."

As part of her ongoing involvement with Bonanzaville, Pam will also be setting up displays and rotating new ones every three months.

She urges everyone to stop and pay her a visit during Pioneer Days. "There will be a display of dolls set up to discuss and talk about and people are welcome to bring their own dolls that I will help them identify or give them tips about caring for."

She is quick to point out the most fun thing about her doll doctoring is having a 70-year old lady bring a doll to her to restore that she wants to pass on to her great grandchild. "The best part is when the lady comes back to get the doll, she actually sees it and the expression on her face and the words of awe that follow - "Oh, my God, it looks the same as when I got it."

"I always do my very best to get the dolls back to original," Pam stated. "Then I recommend they do a baby book of the doll to also pass along. It makes a nice little history because the dolls will be around a long time. My grandchildren will technically be able to play with the dolls when they are over 200 years old because they will last 100 hundred years initially, and once they are restored, another one hundred years."

Pam has her 'doctors office' set up in the basement shop of her home where she does all her 'dirty work' and stores her doll parts. The cosmetic and fashion part of the process - doing hair, wigs and doll clothes is reserved for the kitchen, as everything has to be washed in a special way in order to help assure its preservation.

Another room in her house is reserved strictly for her own dolls that also serves as the parlor area for greeting and welcoming customers who usually hear about her word of mouth from other satisfied customers. Like most good specialty doctors, she is scheduling patients about six months out - well worth the wait since Pam treats each doll like her own, taking two to three hours visiting with each owner to learn the intricate details of origin and history.

Since acquiring her skills in this unique profession, Pam is loving every minute of it and plans on being available to doll connoisseurs for quite some time to come, a good thing since doll doctors are few and far between, with usually only one or two per state. "How else can you be 54 years old and still be able to play with dolls all the time?"

In addition to the time spent with her doll family, she also devotes time to her real-life family, all extremely supportive of her quest to preserve childhood memories for future generations to enjoy - husband, Rick, and two boys, Nathan and Bradley, still at home, as well as three married children, Tressa and her husband Scott Rickards, Delaware, and their son and daughter, Barrett and Hadley; Mark and Amy Terfehr, Fargo; and Beth and Greg Oestreich, Walcott, and their daughter Alix, and two sons, Xavier and Aden.