Real Life

Edith’s amazing doll collection

The proud 82-year-old needs another loving home for her previous babies

Twelve years ago, when Edith Gibson spotted a cherubic-looking baby doll sitting for sale in a Whangaparāoa op shop, she bought it thinking it’d simply make a lovely Christmas present for some little girl.

But the vintage doll never left Edith’s home and, in fact, it marked the accidental start of a 3000-strong doll collection that has turned the former teacher into a documentary star.

“I wasn’t looking for a doll, yet when I saw this one, who I’ve called Carley, I realised she was something special,” tells the quick-witted 82-year-old. “So I brought her home and got on the computer and identified her as a Mattel baby ‘Cheerful Tearful’. If you pull her arm down, she cries real tears and she’ll wet her pants, then when her arm goes up, she’s all happy again. I paid $8 for her, yet she’s worth $70.

“I was going to give her away but when I thought about the little girls I know, she would have ended up in a toybox with her hair not combed and totally neglected. So she stayed with me.”

Now Edith’s collection includes everything from antiquated porcelain creations to modern-day animatronics and the odd crochet doll she has made herself (“I’ve got a very cheeky one with pink hair in a pink bikini!”).

“The doll collection has given me a lot of joy.’

Edith’s particularly amused by the interactive dolls that sing, dance, stand on their heads or walk across the floor.

“I have two dolls I like to race,” she tells, before giving the Weekly a demonstration down the phone of the doll, which loudly giggles. “Don’t worry, I’ll put her dummy in now and she’ll shut up.”

As her collection snowballed over the years, Edith admits she would often hear cries of “Get rid of these dolls!” from other family members.

“But I ignored their advice. Everybody says to me, ‘Oh, it’s because you had no dolls as a kid.’ However, I don’t think that’s true,” recalls Edith, who grew up in Morrinsville and had only ever collected pottery in the past.

“The doll collection has given me a lot of joy. I’ve learnt how to repair them to their former glory. Many would arrive in poor condition, and I would fix them up with new eyes and new hair, or repair a finger or a nose.

Edith named this doll Alice after her mum, as it resembled a portrait of her mother as a baby.

“I spent 14 years teaching art at a Māngere intermediate school and taught night classes in pottery at Avondale College, so I had all the creative skills to repair them.”

Some simply needed a good clean. So they go into what Edith calls her “beauty parlour” for a hair and body wash, then she lovingly creates new clothes. For those who don’t come wearing underwear, which is most of them, she sews knickers out of stretch lace to protect their modesty.

“At one stage, I bought a suitcase full of dolls off Trade Me and I had them all in the bath.”

However, last May some unexpected health issues forced Edith to move into a care facility down the road from her suburban Auckland home, where most of her collection still remains.

“I discovered I have a similar problem to [former cricketer] Chris Cairns in that I have a split in my aorta,” she shares.

Edith was the subject of a documentary last year – Edith Gibson Has 3000 Dolls – which was directed by artist Daisy Lawless

“They could operate on him but not on me. It sure was a shock but I’m doing fairly well, considering. My daughter is a doctor, so she sorts everything out for me. I just have to take it easy and keep my blood pressure right down.”

When Edith braced herself to leave her home, she hoped to rehouse some dolls to museums or other collectors, while taking only a “funny mix” of 50 of her prized ones with her.

“I’ve sold a couple of the Shirley Temple dolls, but I’m not passing dolls on to anybody who isn’t going to look after them,” she says protectively.

When asked to name her favourites, she refuses. It would be “too difficult”.

The collection took up her entire two-bedroom house where “wall-to-wall” dolls of all shapes and sizes were stacked high on a shelving unit by the front door, and snaked through the spare bedroom and even front porch.

In the living room, visitors had to sit alongside the toys displayed on the couch. “Well, some refused to sit next to them!” she laughs. Edith’s off beat fascination even became the subject of a documentary last year – Edith Gibson Has 3000 Dolls – which was directed by artist Daisy Lawless and played at local and international film festivals and is available to view on vimeo.com.

“Edith was my grandmother’s neighbour for 50 years, so I’ve known her my whole life,” says Daisy, who is the daughter of Kiwi actress Lucy Lawless and has been given her own “Daisy” doll by Edith. “It’s actually really exciting to see how someone can be connected and creative and be surrounded by 3000 treasures.”

Edith’s whole doll collection is for sale, either individually or in bulk. Anyone interested, email [email protected]

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