Jenni Dutton

Commission for the Priest’s House Museum in Wimborne, Dorset

Like the shards of discarded pottery unearthed in the garden, I plan to resurrect items
found in the attic of the museum, wrapped in tissue paper and stored in cardboard
boxes and give them their moment in the limelight.
Two broken dolls have caught my eye, both with legs that are in some way broken.
One doll made from wax has potential and now many questions are surfacing around
the issues of repair, beauty, disability, pity and many more. So around the concept of discovery, unwrapping, revealing and bringing to the light I am hoping to be able to x-ray the doll as if investigating a broken leg for real.  All work is documented as part of ‘The Journey’ element of the project.

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August 2012 –  On a train journey to London I continued to make the calico doll, the same dimensions as my Wax Doll. All the information and measurements have been embroidered onto this doll, she is now a 3D diagram. Later this month, I spent time with the Wax Doll and Eileen in the closed world of the attic at the Priest’s House museum. This has been interesting, sometimes frustrating and has given me lots of ideas. Eileen (Keeper of Costumes) helped me take some of the clothes off Wax Doll so I could measure the doll more carefully. Back in the studio I stated making prosthetic legs inpsired by the paralympics and generally getting the feel of the project.

During that trip to london (11 August) I visited the Wellcome Collection to see the show ‘Superhuman’ Exploring human enhancement from 600BCE to 2050. Found information about Aimee Mullins a double amputee, Paralympian and model whose comments reinforced my own ideas about how to approach Wax Doll, hidden away in the attic, broken and neglected.

“A prosthetic limb does not represent the need to replace loss anymore. It can stand as a symbol that the wearer has the power to create whatever it is that they want to create in that space……” (2009 TED talks)

I have been researching the opportunity to get Wax Doll x-rayed at Dorchester hospital, as part of Alex Coultards project with Hugh Turvey. There may be issues concerning taking the doll out of the museum, but I expect we can get around that by having museum staff come with me.

I am beoming more aware about issues around conservation, preservation and restoration, meanwhile experimenting with ways of making the replacement leg for Wax Doll. Ingrid Hesling ( spent the day with me at The Priest’s House taking photos of the doll, having another pair of eyes is great, we have recently colaborated on an exhibition ‘Mother Love’ at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery in Honiton. ( so she is already quite involved in my thinking with this project.


Wax Doll
Wax Doll

Meanwhile, making a clay mould and pouring plaster around was a disaster; small, fiddly, so am back to using materials and techniques I am familiar with, wire, plaster in the form of mod roc, papiermache, and glue. Wax is lovely stuff to use, I have melted all my candles (a dark Christmas coming up) and have been dipping the wire legs in and out trying to get the right thickness to stick and cover the wire. Bees wax is wonderful to use, rich and smells very evocative.However am also experimenting with plastics, burning, forming and generally seeing how much I can manipulate the now quite vast collection of charity shop and car boot dolls that I have collected. I am collecting them for their spare right legs (Wax Doll’s right leg is the mangled one) but see the potential for recombining their parts at a later date.

At this stage I must admit to being interested in the word ‘botch’. My dictionary definition is ‘to patch or mend clumsily; to put together unsuitably or unskillfully’. I think there is great mileage to be found in the energy created by ‘botching’!

My project seems to be following Reveal, Research, Remake, Review, Replace.

It also seems to be about Lists and Collections.  The first pieces I made way back in May 2012 were ’14 Ways To Mend A Feather’ and ’14 Ways To Mend A Feather, With Text’ and as I have now made 7 new legs I can feel another list coming on.

Last weekend (10 November) spent a happy time at the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, part of the V&A, have made contact with the Doll person there to see if I can get any info about their mending of dolls, approach, policy etc that may be of use to me.   I sat on the balcony at the museum and made my Doll’s legs, (using sewing not hot wax) and found myself chatting to lots of children about what I was doing and mending generally.

I take my work everywhere, trains are especially good time to confront the long repetative tasks that I have been avoiding at home. I do also keep a journal in which I document all my thoughts and processes and ideas. Hence its taken a month or so to fill in my blog. May take another month before I attempt putting photos on. Lets see.

I realised that I havn’t written about the Dolls Dress that I am mending/darning at present. The dress was on a doll I picked up for 20p I think, at the end of a street fair in Milverton. I have a vulnerable soft spot for abandoned dollies so she has been part of my studio life for the past 10 or so years. I used her hair recently while making a sampler using human and dolls hair, embroidering the words Baby and Doll. (Which will be incorporated into this project somewhere) Her dress was filthy, and very torn and I started darning, and darning, and darning. The result is more mending than original. It is not aesthetically pleasing and this is good for me, when things look good, one is inclined not to push the concept for fear of spoiling the piece.

great web sites

26th November.     I have been working solidly for a few weeks now and need to take stock, reading Guy’s blog was a great way to do this. It reminded me that I am responding to the absence of mending as Wax Doll’s leg hasn’t had any attempt  to mend it.                 I am visiting The Priest’s House Museum tomorrow, so may try and pin them down about this.

I have now made 12 replacement right legs, with two more on the go. (Just realised that  thatcorresponds to the first piece I made for this project ’14 Ways To Mend A Feather’.)

Maybe my next direction is to look at how I could repair the broken wax leg if I was allowed to have a go .

Have also been sawing right legs off manequinns for a full size version.

December 3rd  – Last week I experimented with polymorph granules to make a leg with very interesting results. The granules melt at a very low temperature 62 degrees I think, and can be rolled, pulled, formed and will remain pliable until is cools off, goes white from transparent and then becomes exceptionally hard. Have ordered a bag online. I have made about 8 or 9, they look like a flock of birds waiting to take off.

Spent a wonderful weekend at the Artes Mundi exhibition in Cardiff. Encountered the work of Darius Miksys who is working with the collection of the National Museum of Wales in the most exciting way.

January 2013

Explored the Ashmoleon Museum in Oxford last weekend, a wonderful section on conservation and restoration with lots of examples. I am sewing a doll’s dress and am now Mending the Mends.

February 2013

One of the consequences of working with this project, is that I have so enjoyed visiting a whole range of museums, some for the first time and some revisiting after what has been too long an absence. A case in point is on 9th February, (and my birthday) I took the early morning train to London and visited the National Gallery for the first time in probably 40 years! My aim was to look at paintings, lots of them and to think about how I might approach making paintings again after a break of, again, probably 40 years. It was so exciting to go from room to room in such awe at the monumental works I saw… like ‘The Origins of The Milky Way’ by Tintoretto, a painting pointed out to me by my late Father on my first ever visit to an art gallery, and Veronese’s ‘Dream of Saint Helena’ and Rubens, my goodness, Rubens wonderful painting called ‘Minerva protects Pax From War’! It was thrilling and quite an emotional experience, probably made more poignant by the length of time since I had been there.

I have three strands to this project, 1) making and researching prosthetic legs for my Wax Doll  2) exploring the mending of unlikely items such as feathers  3)  making dolls dresses that have a history of wear and tear and a link to babies somehow.  It is difficult to get access to my Wax Doll in the Priest’s House Museum, I live a long way from Wimborne and she requires  minders to work with me when I do get access to her as she is rare and quite valuable. As I have resurrected her from a cardboard box in the attic of the museum, I would now like to move her around the museum and photograph her in various situations. I spent a morning with Anne and Audrey last week, taking her from place to place and window to window in search of tantalising positions that enhanced her mystery, that added to her story and quite frankly, provided me with an interesting composition to make a painting from. From these photos I plan to explore her presence in the ‘real’ world. These may or may not be part of the final show depending ….

Wax Doll in the Real World
Wax Doll in the Real World

The next week found me at the Holburne Museum in Bath at the ‘Painted Pomp’ exhibition, again looking at paintings this time by William Larkin, how he painted the sumptuous clothes of the rich and famous of his time.

And now I spend my days painting, using acrylics which is new for me and playing with the photographs I have taken of the Wax Doll, trying to position her replacement legs around her so it can be seen that she now has the choice about how she is perceived by others, as Jacy says, she can now ride a camel!

April 14th

Just spent a lovely three days at the Priest’s House Museum doing a workshop with a selection of the volunteers, mostly the archeologists who had actually excavated the site of the new building and had dug up all the pieces of tesserrae that we used to make the mosaics. We were using the detritus, the unclassified (no that’s not the right terminology, I cant remember the right term for the stuff that wasn’t important). Anyway, we spent the first day just playing with the sherds (I know that’s right, ‘shard’ are glass fragments) making patterns and getting the feel of how to make the best of the pieces of pottery, blue and white china and also plain old white stuff as well as a large collection of clay pipes.

By the end of the day some people (we had 8) stated to stick the pieces using cement based adhesive as the pieces would eventually be placed outside and it all needed to be waterproof. By the end of day 2 we had mostly kept to plan and had stuck down our pieces so day 3 was for tidying up and doing the edges. The final works were amazing, a real achievement as no one had had any experience of mosaic making before.

To see final pieces see the Education Workshop section on the Home page of the web site

13th June I had no idea that I hadn’t written in my blog for so long, two months!! In that time I have been working on making portraits of the dolls that I have found in the stores at the Museum. They are all in some way broken or incomplete. I have made a series that will eventually be 9 paintings, hung as an installation of 3+3+3. I have just started the last one! Am looking forward to seeing them as a collection. I have had to focus on one idea, as so many came crowding in as I was working.

I have a lovely space to install my work at The Priests’ House