There are not many people who would jump at the opportunity to investigate an abandoned doll factory – especially at night – because such a place is as unnerving as it sounds. Armchair urban explorers, however, should definitely get their money’s worth.
Apparently, sculptor Ramon Ingles, of Valencia in Spain, had some connection with the bisque, or porcelain, dolls manufactured in this factory – perhaps designing them – before fate struck and the premises were abandoned. Abandoned in a rush, it would seem, at least if these images are anything to go by.
According to one of the photographers whose pictures are shown here, the now-deserted doll factory is spread over three stories, with a large staircase running up the main tower.
Furniture, masks and musical instruments were also to be found among the dolls’ bodies when the photographer explored the place, with the upper floors packed to bursting with discarded molds and the like.
Bisque dolls were at the peak of their popularity between 1860 and 1900. Made in France and Germany, they were originally intended as fashion items, created to represent adult women and adorned with wigs made from mohair or human hair. These porcelain pieces experienced a revival in the 1980s and are still popular with collectors, though production has since moved to China.
As suggested, judging from the hundreds if not thousands of molds scattered about the place – as well as the many packages full of valuable dolls’ limbs and hair – the factory must have closed quite rapidly. There certainly wasn’t ample time for a proper clear-out.
The vacant building appears to be quite inconspicuous from the outside; without tall chimneys, piping and such, it doesn’t look much a factory. This might be one reason why it has proven less attractive to unwanted visitors. Most of the equipment seems to have been left untouched, in any case.
Yet, once inside the workshop space, a thousand eyes stare at uninvited intruders. One of the ironies about dolls, of course, is that while they are often associated with children, they can be downright creepy. Just ask anyone who has seen the movie Child’s Play.
The heads of bisque dolls are made of unglazed porcelain with a matte finish. This makes their skin texture look more lifelike than that of China dolls made using glazed porcelain, and paint is used to create the skin-like tone. Is it this lifelike quality that conspires to make bisque dolls look so creepy? The glass eyes certainly don’t help.
The rest of the doll – the body and limbs – is usually made out of cloth or leather – or else of wood, papier-mâché, or a mixture of glue and sawdust. All in all, dolls such as these are quite Frankensteinian in their make-up – another reason, perhaps, why we find them somewhat unsettling.
The creation of an unbreakable doll was to become a goal for doll manufacturers, and one that was achieved with the emergence of hard plastic dolls in the late 1940s. This saw the demise of composition dolls – those made entirely from a mixture of glue and sawdust – which had taken the place of porcelain dolls at the beginning of the 20th century.
The purpose of the wheel pictured here – a wooden cylindrical frame in the factory’s main room – escapes us. Maybe it was used for drying cast doll body parts, or perhaps the paint with which they were painted? It sure looks intriguing – and any hints as to the use to which it was put are welcome.
This close-up of the wheel is quite an artistically taken shot, although the doll’s foot placed on the axle leaves an eerie impression – even if it’s been staged.
The process of making porcelain dolls is a complex one, and when exploring an abandoned doll factory, surely deserves a closer look. The first step is pouring the slip into a mold (the slip being the suspension of clay in water).
The greenware – the unfired object – is then left for about an hour before being carefully removed from the mold. It is then generally left for a further three days, in preparation for being fired in the oven.
When the doll’s head has hardened sufficiently, the eyes are cut; then it is placed into kiln – much like this one, though in better shape! – and fired for about three hours. When it has cooled, the piece is polished until smooth and painted.
The painting can be a time-consuming process, with various layers of paint used until the right color and shading is achieved. After each coat of paint is applied, the doll’s head will often go back into the kiln.
Next, the limbs need to be stitched to the body – which is itself stuffed. The eyes are then fixed in place, the head is attached to the body via the shoulder plate, and the wig is glued in place. Finally, the doll has to be dressed.
We’re beginning to understand why porcelain dolls are such works of art, were luxury items when they first appeared, and today can command the prices they do among collectors.
Exploring an abandoned doll factory is a fascinating journey not only in a deserted and downright spooky space but also back in time to an earlier age.