Why It Took 20 Years to Paint My Doll Heads

Carolyn’s Online Magazine



The organist’s feet against the backboard of the organ pedals was the only thing that kept her from falling backwards off her organ stool while she tried to contain her irreverent laughter.

Momentarily Norma Leary was able to announce “Our Three Little Pigs will now sing…Swinelow, Sweet Chariot” as she motioned to the pastor to join the three choir members standing near the organ.

Pat Whyte worked to straighten her green robe as her fellow singers, Betty Reichert, and Sherry Floch, struggled to express a reverent facial expression after Norma’s announcement. The Rev. Monte Holland seemed oblivious to the announcement and the error in the bulletin, and more than twenty years later cannot recall the incident Pat related to him with relish.

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This was just one story Pat Whyte shared with Monte and I while we stayed at her home in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, on the first day of October, 2015. It was a historic day for me. For the first time in 21 years I made progress in completing a set of piano key dolls I began while living in Jamestown.

I obtained my collection of piano keys from a player piano my husband and I were storing in the basement of our Slippery Rock home, which was rented out. On June 6, 1993, during a severe lightning storm, the house was hit.

As fortune would have it, Monte and I were on the property, in a basement apartment in our apartment building at the bottom of the hill, when we heard a terrifying noise. I went to the upstairs apartment to look because it sounded like lightning struck between the two houses. All appeared to be safe so I returned to the basement.

Only a couple of minutes later our tenant called down to us: The house is on fire.

The fire raged in the midst of the continuing storm with so much lightning the firemen told me I could use the flash on my camera—something not advisable under normal circumstances because firemen seeing the flash can interpret it as a flashback.


The only things we had in the house were a bunk bed and the piano. Unfortunately, the piano was right under where the most water was shot into the house by the firemen and it was ruined. 001940204-00 cE

I retrieved the keys, and later, looking at them, imagined them being parts of dolls. And so I reached the point where I had 88 piano keys for 44 dolls. My neighbor in Jamestown let me use his workshop to cut out the heads and the arms and other parts necessary to construct the dolls. I sewed fancy dresses and made cute tuxedos, and voila, was close to finishing the dolls.

However, the heads needed to be painted. Unfortunately, paint brushes clutched between my fingers cause these digits to freeze tighter than a bolt rusted to a screw. I needed assistance.

My niece Debbie, an award winning craft painter, designed the face pattern and painted a few heads for me while trying to teach me how to do it myself. And Pat recalls I came to her when Debbie moved and became unavailable to assist me. She apparently tried to show me how to paint them, and remembers I told her I needed to do it in case I could put them into a competition where the product had to be completed by the artist.

We moved shortly thereafter. The doll head painting project fell on to the back burner, and remained there for 20 years. Thus, there’s been no progress in finishing the dolls. On occasion I started to bring the project to the fore, bringing along with it my paintbrush phobia. My hands freeze when holding a paintbrush. Because of this I’ve been a lazy learner who realizes I don’t really don’t want to learn to paint. I’ll be fully satisfied if someone else does the work. However, I must paint some of the heads myself so I can use the dolls in craft competitions.

Last spring I talked to Pat, who agreed not only to paint most of the doll heads but to spend time teaching me to paint three sets of heads. I left a box of doll heads and patterns with her, and telling her she didn’t have to follow the pattern exactly.

Already painted doll heads, some not painted.

Already painted doll heads, some not painted.

Summer came and went. By mid-September I wondered when, or if, I could connect with Pat, a three-hour drive distance away. Then Monte opened a letter about the Jamestown United Methodist Church annual chicken pie dinner.

“Do you want to go?” he asked.

“Can we work in visiting Pat?” I asked.

Fortunately Pat was available the day after the chicken pie dinner. On October 1st we put our heads and paint brushes together—her the teacher, me the inept student. By the end of the day my doll heads were painted and packed, and Monte and I were on the way home.

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Now I need to complete cleaning my garage, uncovering the big counter so I can spread the doll parts out and maybe, just maybe, by the first day of spring 2016 I’ll be looking for boxes to store the dolls while I market them.

Guess in January I’ll have my work cut out—writing my novel and finishing my dolls. Wish me luck.

Throughout my life it’s amazing how many projects I’ve begun and not completed. I’ve uncovered a few while cleaning my garage.

Life has a way of interfering with the best made plans. I never expected it to take twenty years to complete painting the doll heads.

Pat's dog enjoyed watching us paint.

Pat’s dog enjoyed watching us paint.

I’ve learned along life’s journey that relationships, not projects, must be the focus of my attention. The purpose of projects must be to enhance, not to interfere with, relationships. Painting the doll heads gave Monte and I an opportunity to spend time with Pat and her husband David, something that might otherwise not happened. I’ve gained an appreciation of Pat beyond her painting. She provided me insight into close knit families, something that’s eluded me. She also told us how our presence in Jamestown affected her and David. This is a precious gift beyond her gift of teaching me. That’s what it’s all about. And maybe that’s why I’m a lazy learner about some things—so I can have opportunities to relate to others in a meaningful manner.


NOTE: WordPress prompts change and lazy learner apply to this post.

About carolyncholland

In several if my nine lives I have been a medical lab technician and a human service worker specializing in child day care, adoptions and family abuse. Currently I am a photo/journalist/writer working on a novel and a short story. My general writings can be viewed at www.carolyncholland.wordpress.com. My novel site is www.intertwinedlove.wordpress.com.
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1 Response to Why It Took 20 Years to Paint My Doll Heads

  1. Pingback: The Stroke of Midnight: 2015/2016 | Carolyn's Online Magazine

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