Real Life

Toy story

Visiting Chrystle Collis’ home is like taking a step back into your childhood.
Dollywood, Chrystle Collis' collects dolls and displays them in her home for all ages to enjoy.

As a child, Chrystle Collis didn’t own many toys. “Mum read me books,” she says. She’s made up for lost time, though, having amassed thousands of dolls and toys in the past few decades, all displayed throughout the home she shares with her husband, Ross.

A bevy of Barbies fills an entire grandstand – a former shop prop; vintage porcelain collectables are squeezed onto shelves; her teddy bears would populate a plethora of picnics. There are punk-haired trolls, Cabbage Patch Kids, nationality dolls – even controversial Golliwogs. “To children,” she says, “they’re dolls.”

In pride of place in one corner is Collis’ favourite: a large porcelain Elvis she bought on Trade Me for $7; she loves it when fans spot the figurine and start belting out his hits.

This porcelain Elvis doll is a favourite of collector Chrystle Collis.

Collis has never had children of her own, but for 20 years ran an informal, free-of-charge “doll’s hospital” in her former Greymouth home. Eventually she decided to open her collection to the public, dubbing it Dollyworld. Six years ago, she and Ross moved to Owaka (where these photographs were taken).

Now, having outgrown that house, they’ve settled into a former daycare centre – spacious and patently child-friendly – at 146 Clyde St, Balclutha (to arrange a visit, phone 03 418-3834).

Dollyworld is no conventional tourist attraction: opening hours are flexible – they’ve even been known to open on Christmas day – and it’s not all “Look, don’t touch.” Collis makes jewellery with older kids, throws the odd tea party and always makes time for a good chin-wag. “Seeing a mum and dad watching their little one enjoy a doll gives me a real buzz,” she says.

And it’s not just kids who react emotionally to the dolls. “Some people walk in and cry. One guy in his 70s – he looked like a tough Kiwi bloke – said, ‘I know this doll’ and he cried. It turned out his elderly sister, who had dementia, carried a similar doll around with her everywhere.”

Collis has filled an entire grandstand with Barbie dolls.

While many of the dolls are collector’s items, Collis isn’t focused on their monetary worth. “I like to collect dolls with a story behind them. That way you know they’ve been loved.” Many have been gifted, such as the Womble a woman “went all the way back to Ashburton to fetch” when she realised Collis didn’t have one. The oldest pieces in her collection are a pair of pedigree “walkie-talkie” dolls donated by a visitor from Milton.

Operating Dollyworld “makes for a very interesting life”, says Collis. “Always meeting new people from all around the world, forming friendships with them and staying in touch via email, hearing their childhood memories and stories…

“We all grow up, but when people come to Dollyworld, they see and remember their favourite toys and the smile says it all.”

Words by: Stacey Anyan

Photos: Ken Downie

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