In a small shed behind Dorothy Hayes’ home on Sherman’s west side, tiny clenched fists poke up among empty, eyeless heads. Assorted sizes of arms, legs and other body parts line shelves along the wall. A scene left over from Halloween? No, something much more innocent. Hayes’ home is a one-woman doll factory.
Hayes shares her house with grandchildren, great-grandchildren and at least 250 dolls. That is not the remarkable part. She made all those dolls and the clothes on their diminutive porcelain backs herself.
She has been a seamstress since she was a child, and in searching for something to fill her time after retirement from Texas Instruments, she combined sewing with her love for dolls and found the perfect partnership. In the past ten years, the seventy-four-year-old Hayes has learned the art of pouring liquid porcelain in molds to shape heads, arms, legs and other dolly parts. The porcelain is layered until it reaches the right thickness, and then baked in a kiln. After the baking, Hayes rubs the pieces with fine sandpaper until they are as smooth as a real baby’s skin. She gives her new friends eyes and hair and then paints their faces at her dining room table, one that belonged to her late husband’s grandparents.
Some dolls are replicas of famous people. You’ll recognize John Wayne, Shirley Temple and Princess Diana in the collection. Others, Hayes has painted and dressed to look like celebrities such as Cher or Marilyn Monroe.
Making the clothes is her favorite part of the process because it allows her more creativity. Some of the dolls’ outfits she makes are quite elaborate. One of her favorites, Wedding Day Shay, wears a white satin dress hand-beaded with tiny pearls. Another doll sports a winter coat of green velvet with a beret to match. She displays the dolls wherever she can find a spot. Like a full house of people at a fun Christmas party, dolls several rows deep fill up Hayes’ living room and spill into bedrooms and line shelves on the walls.
Hayes has made dolls for her children, grandchildren and other family members. She would sell some of her dolls, but does not think she could recoup what it took in time and effort to make them, so for now, they have become part of the household. What drives Hayes to keep on making new dolls? “It’s my hobby,” she said. “I enjoy doing it. And because I like dolls. They’re just pretty.”
Photos by Jacki Lee Miller.