A little workshop in Barbaroux street in Torino, on the window the title “Greta Canalis Dolls’ Doctor”. Just a step across the threshold and we find ourselves into a world of enchantment. Antique porcelain dolls, teddy bears which had seen better times, but also the favorite pal Barbie of someone, maybe grown up, but who doesn’t want to quit the best playmate.
At a corner in a basket a boytoy with a sheet on its side, the medical record which the little owner has addressed to the doctor in order to list the his bestie’s “wounds” to be healed. And then we meet Greta, 31 years old, who tells us how this idea was conceived: “I belong to a family of restorers.
My father is a carpenter and my sister is a restorer of paintings and frescoes. I attended the Fine Arts Academy, that was the artistic flair, but I wished to do something special, truly peculiar. By chance I just dropped by a toys workshop, where a man with a long beard, like Santa Claus, used to repair dolls and teddy bears as a hobby. That’s how I started my apprenticeship experience, he taught me the craft and I’ve done it for seven years”.
A year ago, I opened my own workshop.” In the Covid year? “Actually – Greta says – I’ve kept on working from home and in another bigger workshop, but I’ve also become active on social media, a good means in order to make myself more known. Now I receive dolls to be restored from all over Italy.”. “I’m specialized in porcelain dolls’ restoration – she explains – though I now mend the Cicciobellos, horses, bears, Barbies. When I began, I used to meet especially collectors and, maybe elderly people who had jealously preserved their dolls; through the years my customers base has ‘rejuvenated’ and during the first lockdown, the people has had the chance to rediscover hidden objects in their own homes and a younger generation of clients has started coming to me. So, it happens that nowadays there is someone who restores a childhood memory, maybe a Barbie.”
What does it mean to be a young artisan? “Well, honestly, in this world the younger you are, the lesser you are taken into account. You keep being told that you don’t have enough knowledge, expertise. Furthermore, at the very beginning I was afraid that this world wouldn’t be understood. Dolls might be scary, as they’ve been used in so many horror movies.
There are not many of us in Italy doing this job. There is the historic Dolls’ Hospital in Napoli and another workshop in Rome. I gained a Certificate as a Dolls’ Restorer by an American Association, the ‘Doll Doctor’s Association’. Abroad, in fact, this tradition is more consolidated, especially, concerning Europe, in Germany. “Before this darned virus – she remembers – I used to go to Germany five times a year, because there are trade fairs, festivals, markets, auctions. In Germany dolls’ doctors are numerous, there are factories where you can purchase your materials, furthermore some open days are planned in order to show you how to do it”.
Which one is your favorite doll? “It’s a porcelain doll, dated in the early ‘900, which was assembled cross-eyed. I’ve found it in the old workshop, where I used to be employed, no one ever had come to retrieve it and, at the end – and Greta smiles – I adopted her”.