Jesus has a hole in his chest.
He also has damaged fingers and toes, a crack in his back and assorted other bumps and nicks. With a little loving care from Chantel Jeschien at her Fresno Doll Hospital, the infant Jesus made of plaster will look as good as a newborn in a manger.
In her doll hospital that sits in the shadow of Fresno City College, Jeschien is able to do a variety of repair work on dolls, whether they be antiques made of porcelain or new dolls formed out of plastic. Her specialty is dolls made before 1960, but the hospital is equipped with stacks of parts, molds, paints and the other bits needed to do the repair work on a variety of patients.
Jeschien won’t have time for many doll emergencies this weekend as she will be making free doll appraisals at the 32nd Fresno Doll Show and Sale being hosted by the San Joaquin Valley Doll Club. Jeschien is the last charter member of the local doll enthusiasts group.
My mother thought I was crazy when I started doing this and it was a waste of time.
Chantel Jeschien, owner, Fresno Doll Hospital
The doll show will have 40 tables featuring antique, collectible and reproduction dolls along with bears, toys, miniatures, doll furniture, doll supplies and doll books.
“We used to get hundreds of people, but over the years, other people started hosting doll shows in their town and so people would go to shows in their own area instead of traveling to Fresno,” Jeschien says.
Jeschien has been around the doll repair world since she and her sister emigrated from Bayonne, France, in 1954 when she was only 6. The mother of her friend, Deloris Avakian, ran the doll hospital in Fresno at that time and Jeschien loved to look at all the dolls that filled the woman’s home.
When Jeschien got older, she began splitting time between working as a waitress at the Fort Washington golf course and doing doll repair, mostly work on her own doll collection. Years were spent training herself to make repairs and do the work properly so that when she was done, the doll would be returned to as close to original as possible. The work started out as a family project as Jeschien’s mother was a strong seamstress while her father was good with repairs.
“My mother thought I was crazy when I started doing this and it was a waste of time,” Jeschien says.
That crazy idea turned into a lifetime of work as Jeschien has been running her doll hospital for 43 years. Repairs were done in the family kitchen at the start, then moved to a room in the house, but eventually Jeschien set up her hospital in a building behind her family home.
The doll hospital is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Although Jeschien does a lot of work on older dolls, she works on everything from modern dolls to teddy bears.
She began to make money through buying dolls at flea markets, estate sales, yard sales and antique shops that she would repair and then resell. Over the years, Jeschien has collected a wide range of dolls, including ones based on comic strip characters.
Dolls can cost as much as $100,000.
“You really had to hunt,” Jeschien says. “I wanted to find the bisque porcelain babies. There were a lot of German and French companies that made porcelain dolls. There were only a couple in the United States.
“If you were lucky, you would find something. Now, it’s a buyers market; eBay has taken over all the collector’s markets. If you have money, you can spend $100,000 on a doll.”
That price is for old, rare dolls. She points out that collectors can spend just $10 as there are plenty of options on that low end of the financial scale.
At the doll show, Jeschien doesn’t expect to see a lot of the high-end dolls because the market is not that strong here.
Jeschien’s love of dolls, however, has never faltered. Two years ago, while in France to visit relatives, Jeschien asked if anyone had seen a tiny doll in a basket she left behind when she moved to the United States. Her cousin still had it. Now the doll has a spot on the hospital shelf with the hundreds of other dolls in the local woman’s collection.
32nd Fresno Doll Show and Sale
- When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, May 7
- Where: Hope Lutheran Church, 364 East Barstow Ave.
- Admission: $6 general, $3 for children
- For more information: 559-266-1108 or email Jeschien@comcast.net.