By Michele DeLuca
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — When she was a little girl, Joan Infantino longed to have a little Shirley Temple doll that she saw in Kraussman’s Department Store.
But her mother said no, she needed a winter coat instead. So, Joan didn’t get the doll back then.
But, these days, her Lewiston home is filled with dolls, and two of them are Shirley Temple dolls.
“My husband laughed one day and said, ‘I guess you showed her,’” smiled Infantino recently while showing a visitor her collections.
Infantino is now a doll maker. It is a 25-year hobby that appears to be nearly an obsession, although she doesn’t see it that way. Her basement is filled with doll parts, including trays of teeny porcelain arms and legs, and even a little plastic box of doll eyes.
It would be a fascinating place to visit for anyone who has ever loved dolls, or lace, or even perfectly sewn, tiny, hand-made clothing.
Beyond her Shirley Temple dolls and her collection of antique dolls and the many dolls she has made herself, there are at least a dozen award winners, including the doll that just recently won her first international honors at a show in Harrisburg.
The little Asian award winner was made in her workshop, and from its porcelain body to its carefully styled black hair to its hand-painted eyes, it seems exquisite in detail, as noted by the judges at the show where she won the top award, a “Maggie,” for the best “non-professional, modern, all-bisque, under-16-inches” doll.
Infantino first took up doll-making the day she walked into a ceramics store on Webster Street in North Tonawanda about 25 years ago. Since then, she has acquired shelves of molds, two kilns and has created hundreds of dolls.
She is not a typical doll-maker. Many hobbyists attend multiple, costly seminars and take continuous training to learn to make specific dolls. Infantino purchased some molds and some kilns and gallons of porcelain and figured it out for herself in her basement workshop.
“I was told by a teacher not too long ago that I can’t expect to win blue ribbons making dolls in my basement,” she said.
That teacher might be surprised at the many blue ribbon awards in the Infantino home, where there are about a dozen award-winning dolls and doll displays, including two different “Alice in Wonderland” displays and a display of three dolls of Winken, Blinken and Nod, placed in a sailboat made from a real wooden shoe.
Infantino doesn’t seem to do anything in a small way. She admits that “when I do something, I do it with my whole heart.”
Before the doll making, she was wrapped up in cake decorating and Italian cooking, which she taught at Lewiston Porter’s continuing education program.
But, now it’s all dolls of all kinds, many in various stages of production in her basement workshop. As a member of the Western New York Doll Club, an affiliate of the United Federation of Doll Clubs and of For The Love of Dolls, Chapter II, her next goal is to win the biggest prize of all, the “Millie” given for antique doll reproductions. She has already started to replicate a French doll named Genevieve, designed with rosebud lips and long, dark, hand-painted eye lashes. Infantino has poured and fired eight different heads to get one that is perfect.
“Once I win the Millie, I won’t care if I do it anymore,” she laughed. In nearly the next breath, Infantino described the doll she hopes to make after Genevieve, and showed a picture in a magazine of a little doll, circa 1890s, dark haired, dressed in a sweet, red dress. “I can’t wait to pour her,” she said with a laugh.
As for her husband, Phil, a retired chemical analyst at Dupont and one-time football player in high school, a house decorated by dolls is not so hard to take.
“I like them. I think they’re pretty,” he said. “They make her happy, and that makes me happy.”