BUENOS AIRES – Some 400 old dolls are spread around a small but magical workshop in Argentina’s capital amid dozens of doll parts made of plastic and other materials, including extremities, eyes and hair.
It is there that skilled craftsman and “doll doctor” Julio Roldan plies his trade, restoring the treasured children’s toys – and all the hope, memories and affection they symbolize – to their former glory.
Holding a plastic head in one hand and wearing a lab coat with the now-faded words “Dr. Roldan,” the ever-smiling repairman receives any and all visitors looking for a restoration job or simply wanting to learn more about the unique profession he has practiced for a half-century.
“They can give you a Rolls-Royce. They can give you a gold ring. But it’s your affection for your doll that always shines through” because of the unique family bond it creates, he said, adding that all of those toys have “beautiful, sad, happy” stories behind them.
Roldan works at a small desk that he moves to the patio when the weather is nice to work on his “patients” in the sunlight.
His most recent repair job was an 80-year-old Japanese celluloid doll, which he patched up using handmade products over a period of two weeks and now displays with evident pride and emotion.
Roldan recalls as if it were yesterday repairing his first doll – a so-called Rayito de Sol from the 1960s whose voice had turned nasal-sounding.
He also remembers the oldest doll he has ever received, a 140-year-old Japanese automaton (mechanized puppet) that had ceased moving well.
Roldan began learning his craft as a small boy living in a mud and straw home in Villa Tulumba, a town in the central Argentine province of Cordoba.
He and his 11 brothers and sisters used to make adobe dolls with his father, craftwork that he excelled in from an early age.
Roldan said he had served a changing clientele over 50 years, noting that his customers ranged from young boys and girls to collectors to even film or TV producers looking for old dolls to use in their movies or series.
But he said most of his customers were parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents from Argentina but also from other countries such as Chile, Brazil, Italy and Spain.
He acknowledged that traditional dolls were in danger of being pushed out of the market because of technological advances.
“But there’s something we’ll never lose, and those are the families who want their little girls or grandchildren, sons, grandsons to keep playing with dolls,” Roldan said.