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Pottery/How To Repair Antique Bisque Doll Heads

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QUESTION: I have about 6 antique bisque doll heads that I want to repair.They are missing some pieces. Someone placed wall plaster material  where the missing pieces were but I read that the appropriate material is clay and epoxy. So my first question is: do I remove the plaster or can I simply place epoxy on it because it's harden and been on there along time?Secondly if I need to remove the plaster, do I buy clay, let it harden and then place epoxy and then paint?Thank you so much and have a great day-

ANSWER: Dear Margie,

    Thank you for your recent questions. It is unfortunate that the doll heads were damaged, especially since they are antique. However, although the article you read is correct is some part, it is not in another.

    Epoxy is a very good material to use to repair bisque if you have pieces you wish to mend together. Bisque is a very porous material in it's un-glazed state, even porcelain microscopically, so that epoxy will bond the pieces together well and with strength. But the use of clay to create patching work for pieces that have been misplaced is not the answer as clay must be fired to cure it to bisque and the process in which this is performed would never with stand the firing process. Let me explain further.

    Bisque as you know is clay fired. But it is much more than this. It is clay without plasticity. Plasticity is created when clay has water particles sliding between clay particles. Since your doll heads are in bisque form, even adding water to the bisque will not cause the clay to turn plastic because the clay reached a point in the kiln where it vitrified and can never return to it's plastic state.

    This being said, the opposite holds for clay in it's plastic state. Until fired, you can add water to it over and over after it dries out and return it to it's plastic state, thereby allowing water particles to once again slide between the clay particles.

    Because of the opposite physical characteristics of the bisque doll heads and moist clay, repairs with moist clay would never adhere enough to the bisque to withstand a firing process and become a permanent part or connected part of the bisque doll head. Basically stating, the moist clay will dry, shrink away from the bisque and fall off.

    Now, what to do. Since the doll heads are already damaged, they are no longer the value they once were, so restoring them would be more costly than they would be worth after the restore. But you want to repair them, I am assuming to create some beautiful dollies. And this is wonderful so let's look at the plaster repair already in progress.

    First, I would look the repairs over and see that what is done is truly stable and adhered to the bisque. Carefully brush or knock away any plaster that is not in tack. Next, check the plaster for smoothness. In order for the doll heads to look original, once they are painted, the repairs must be as smooth as the bisque ware surface. There are several ways to smooth out the surface. My favorite when it comes to plaster with epoxy is to use a soft stone grinding stone on a Dremel tool. You have control of the tool in your hands and the soft stone is soft enough to rid the plaster of surface epoxy to get to the plaster and smooth it out.

    Next, you will want to plaster any remaining holes or broken areas on the head. To create a surface to work with, I would take a small balloon and blow it up while inside the doll head until it is tight. Tie it off and you have a surface in which to build up the plaster. Mix your plaster in small amounts according to instructions and begin by placing plaster on the inside of any holes and working outwards to the bisque edges. If there are small holes, use a toothpick to work the plaster.

    Let dry for several days before handling. Deflate the balloon using a needle and remove it from the doll head. I would then spray the inside of the doll head liberally with polyurethane. This means several coats over several days.

    Next, using a emery board, carefully smooth the plaster surface until aligned with the surface of the bisque. To finish, select the paint you will use to paint the doll heads. Because the plaster is softer than the bisque, you will need a paint that will adhere the plaster permanently to the bisque. I suggest an enamel based paint. I have used thinned down fingernail polish to do detail work on pieces I couldn't fire and because there are so many wonderful colors available, you can choose flesh tones, cheek blushes and lip and eye colors in exact colors. Just remember to purchase several bottles of fingernail polish remover to thin the colors with so that when you do painting of the cheeks or eye shadow for instance, you can thin it so it looks air brushed on and not opaque and tacky.

    I hope this helps you in repairing your antique doll heads. If you have further questions, please feel free to contact me at any time. I am always at your service. Much luck to you.

Sincerely,
Ms. Ti Phillips
Earth Stoke 'N Fire Pottery Studio and Artist Retreat
www.earthstokenfire.com

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Ti-I can't thank you enough and am on my way to beauti-fy my dollies as best I can with your help and tips! Just to clarify (and I feel bad terrible bothering you again) but the plaster Paris is okay as long as I follow the other steps accordingly? I am ready to dig in after you give me the green light(  ; You are wonderful Ti!!Thank you SO much for your advice and have a great day!

Margie

Answer
Dear Margie,

    Thank you for your recent follow up question. Yes, the plaster is fine, as long as you follow the other instructions. Plaster will develop into a hard surface that is workable as the bisque is. Although it will not be as "hard" as bisque, using enamel to finish the doll head will set up the plaster and strengthen the surface. Since you will probably finish the doll heads and create bodies and dress them for display, they will most likely not be played with, and therefore will prevent the plaster from cracking or chipping from hard play. At least, in this case, this is what I would do with the heads.

    I would like to thank you for your wonderful thank you message and feedback. It is nice to know that this service is of great assistance to those who need it. As an AllExpert volunteer for over 20 years, it has been my pleasure to give advice to those who seek assistance, whether pottery related or not. Please feel free to use this service often for my area of expertise or in other areas in which you find yourself needing assistance. In my opinion, AllExperts has always been a reliable source for instructions, advice and general information on just about any subject matter you can imagine.

    Good luck with your project, and please give us an update on your progress and completion. I would love to hear how your doll heads come out, with maybe some photo's I can display here to show the success you made. Remember, I am always at your service!

Sincerely,
Ms. Ti Phillips
Earth Stoke 'N Fire Pottery Studio and Artist Retreat
www.earthstokenfire.com

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Ti Phillips

Expertise

Will answer any questions on hand building, wheel, glaze, firing. Speciality questions to include those in glaze calculation and development, firing techniques. Please do not send questions on identifying pottery. Although I would love to add this to my question topics, I have a retreat to run as well as the studio and volunteering on AllExperts, and therefore do not have the available time to research indentification and marks. Thank you for understanding.

Experience

Experience includes 30 years in pottery design and education. Have taught online and studio classes worldwide for the last 20 years. Own a pottery retreat specializing in firing techniques. Have 12 years solid experience in glaze calculation and formulation as well as problem solving in glaze chemistry. I am the first potter in the United States to have developed a complete package of pottery equipment blueprints for a studio. The blueprints include wheels, kilns, studio furniture, wedgeboards, raku kilns, slab rollers, ball mills and studio tools.

Organizations
Alliance of Pottery Artists Worldwide Association

Publications
Ceramic Industry - PPP Wyndstryder Press - Pottery Journal

Education/Credentials
University of Sciences and Art's of Oklahoma, studied under Professor Jaymes Dudding.

Awards and Honors
Potter of the year with APAWA, various awards for showmanship and design.

Past/Present Clients
Available upon request.

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