Northwest NEWS

May 25, 1998


Beloved Betsy Lee leads to the business of dolls in Duvall


(l-r:) Mary Bolen and Gerri Nelson of Bothell and Carol Earlywine of Duvall with their new dolls.

  by Margaret Reeder

   Each child got to choose just one "favorite thing" to pack for the trek from the dry, cold, wind-swept plains of central Nebraska to the lush green Snoqualmie River valley in the State of Washington. Margaret knew immediately that she could not bear to part with her beloved Betsy Lee. So the big doll was lovingly packed into the small two-wheeled trailer, and the family set out for their new home at the Roetcisoender dairy farm on the River Road northwest of Duvall. The year was 1957.
   For the next few years, Betsy Lee enjoyed a warm cozy spot in Margaret's bedroom waiting each evening for her to come home from Tolt High School in Carnation. But when Margaret went off to the University of Washington, Betsy Lee found herself packed into her traveling box and stuffed to the back of a closet. Over the years, the closets changed as Margaret moved from teaching first grade, to a position as reading specialist, then to vice-principal and finally to a principalship in the Seattle Public Schools.
   Betsy Lee's smooth vinyl skin began to yellow, harden and crack open. The crumbly foam stuffing tumbled out of her body. The glue holding the eye mechanism disintegrated and her beautiful blue eyes and long lovely eyelashes fell back into her head. Then Betsy Lee began to hear the tinkle of tiny little voices right outside the closet door every night after the rest of the house was in bed.
   Margaret had discovered the wonderful world of porcelain doll making. Night after night Betsy Lee lay in her box, deep in the closet, wishing that she could frolic about in soft leather dancing shoes, wearing splendid new clothes, with her gorgeous new hair spilling out from under frilly bonnets, just like all of the other lovely new porcelain dolls. One day as Margaret was admiring all of her beautiful new dolls, she happened to think about her old doll, Betsy Lee. She missed Betsy Lee. She smiled to herself as she dug the old box out of the closet, thinking of all of the wonderful times that she and Betsy Lee had shared so many years ago.
   But what had happened? How could she have neglected such a dear part of her childhood? The search was on for the best Doll Doctor in town. In no time at all Betsy Lee was as good as new. The year was 1994. Today Betsy Lee lives with Margaret and her husband, Dr. James G. Reeder at the Big Rock Limousin Cattle Ranch off Big Rock Road southeast of Duvall. Margaret has since retired from Seattle Public Schools. While Dr. Reeder is busy working with patients at his Duvall Chiropractic Office, Margaret and Betsy Lee are happily teaching other doll lovers how to make their very own beautiful heirloom quality porcelain dolls. Doll makers from eight to eighty come from one end of the Snoqualmie Valley to the other and from towns all around Duvall, Carnation, Snoqualmie, Redmond, Woodinville, Bellevue, Cottage Lake, Snohomish and Everett to the Carousel Doll Studio to make their own precious dolls with Margaret and Betsy Lee.
   Have you ever wondered just how porcelain dolls are made? It is actually quite an easy process. First liquid clay is poured into the doll molds. It sets up in the mold for 5-7 minutes before it is poured back into the jar, leaving an 18th inch thick casting. This hollow casting becomes the doll's head, shoulder plate, arm or leg. The casting is dried and then soft-fired to 1200 degrees in a kiln.
   Students start with this "greenware" piece, cleaning the seam lines and smoothing the surfaces. The cleaned pieces are hard-fired to 2200 degrees, vitrifying into porcelain bisque. The student polishes the bisque pieces and applies an overall wash complexion. After the pieces are re-fired, the student is ready to begin painting the eyebrows, eyelashes, lips and cheeks. After each application of paint, the pieces are fired again. When the painting is all finished, the eyes are set into the head and the doll is assembled and dressed. More experienced doll makers select one of the many modern or antique dolls ranging in size from 5" to 31". Class size is limited to six students so that Margaret can give each one all of the personal assistance needed to complete a beautiful doll.
   Margaret is a Certified Doll Artisan with a Masters in the Art of Doll Making from the Doll Artisan Guild in Oneonta, New York. She is also the Area Manager for the State of Washington for the New York based Seeley Doll Company. In her capacity as Area Manager, she recruits and provides on-going support to other entrepreneurs wishing to start their own business in dolls with a home-based teaching studio.
   Reeder is offering beginning and advanced modern and antique porcelain doll classes in which participants can make a 19-inch newborn baby doll for $39.95 in three weeks. Classes are held Tuesdays from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.; Wednesdays from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. If you are interested in signing up for classes or want to know more about starting your own doll studio, call Margaret at 425-844-2446.
   If you would like a copy of the Carousel Doll Student Handbook, the monthly newsletter, and/or informational brochures, send a self-addressed stamped envelope with your request to Margaret Reeder, P.O. Box 1060, Duvall, Washington, 98019.