Aunt Gertrude's House in Guthrie includes doll hospital 

click to enlarge A doll waiting for repairs at Sisters Doll Hospital in Guthrie, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • A doll waiting for repairs at Sisters Doll Hospital in Guthrie, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015.

Cherie Gorden keeps loose arms and legs on the hospital shelf in case she ever needs them.

She keeps heads, too. She doesn’t really need those; she just likes to look at them.

Drawers full of eyeballs and an operating table covered with stitching needles, scissors and a chemical or two make Sisters Doll Hospital in Guthrie a state leader in porcelain pediatrics.

“I save everything,” said Gorden, the hospital’s founder and lead practitioner. “I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to parts and fabrics or laces. You never know when you’re going to need that little bit or that one little thing to make the repair.”

The hospital is tucked away in the back room of Aunt Gertrude’s House, Gorden’s American craft gallery, founded at Guthrie’s 112 E. Oklahoma Avenue in 1997. It’s roped off from the rest of the store, which features fine arts, crafts and jewelry from some of the state’s most celebrated artists.

On occasion, Gorden can be found in back, wearing a ventilation mask as she stands over a wood-based composition doll, repainting and restoring its fine, weathered details.

She repairs composition dolls, porcelains, rag dolls, stuffed animals and just about everything in between.

With a wall full of spare limbs and a dozen of pairs of eyes staring in every direction, it’s a room in which a child’s imagination could easily run wild. Some react better than others, especially young kids who might have caught a Chucky rerun at some point.

“Kids come back here sometimes because they want to see the doll hospital, and it just freaks them right out,” Gorden said.

During Guthrie’s annual downtown trick-or-treat night (Friday this year), Gorden might pull some of her resources together to create a window display for the youth. A bowl of glass eyes might watch them as she hands out candy from her large witch’s cauldron.

But Gorden says her hospital isn’t as creepy as it is fabulous.

Her operating room is less of a cold dungeon and more of a warm space outfitted with plush red carpeting, display cases full of beautifully dressed antique figures and, of course, Gorden’s friendly smile.

Little girls especially love the environment.

“When I have a little girl come in with her doll, very often, I find out the doll’s name. I write it on the ticket,” she said. “Little girls tell me what their doll’s favorite TV shows are. They’re really cute with their dolls. To them, they’re their babies, so I try to treat that with respect.”

click to enlarge Doll body parts at Sisters Doll Hospital in Guthrie, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Doll body parts at Sisters Doll Hospital in Guthrie, Monday, Oct. 12, 2015.

Valued secrets

Gorden was one of those little girls once. She recalls that her aunt, Gertrude Zigler, for whom her shop is named, presented her with her first doll at age 8.

Aunt Gertrude was Gorden’s first exposure to dolls and particularly doll repair. Her aunt and grandmother had their own doll hospital, Zigler’s Antiques and Doll Studio in Oklahoma City, which they opened together in the early 1950s.

Young Gorden would spend hours having fun and imagining with her sister and their dolls in Zigler’s large playroom.

“We would just tell [the dolls], ‘It’s OK; we won’t tell anyone if you come alive. We won’t give away your secrets,’” she said.

Doll repair is a family business for Gorden. She opened her own Oklahoma City doll hospital around 1989 before eventually moving into her current space in Guthrie.

She learned many of her techniques from watching her grandmother sew while her aunt performed body repairs.

Her father also did a lot of work on porcelain.

Though she has always loved dolls and is still a collector, Gorden said that as a girl raised around dolls at all times, she sometimes failed to see how special some of that work was.

“My dad, when he did the repairs, I wasn’t as interested in it at the time,” she said. “Then he got to where he could no longer do it because of health.”

In her 30s, Gorden said she started getting serious about continuing the family business.

She took a series of intensive restoration courses to refresh her skills and learn new techniques that were developed since her aunt started years ago.

Family histories

Now, as one of the few such hospitals left in the nation, Gorden said she gets shipments and restoration requests from all over.

The length of time a repair takes depends on the severity of the damage, along with other factors. Sometimes orders can pile up.

Children’s requests always move to the front of the line, though.

At the end of each year, Sisters Doll Hospital stops taking orders so she can attempt to get caught up before Christmas.

Through years of handling and collecting dolls, Gorden said she has developed a natural sense of the age and value of the figures. By the time most dolls end up seeing her, their market value is almost completely diminished.

What never fades, however, is the emotional value attached to them. Often, the dolls have passed through generations of family, collecting history along the way.

“Ninety-five percent of what I do is for sentiment,” she said.

So, as Gorden works in front of her wall of limbs, she’s also surrounded at all times by heirlooms. Decades of untold stories hide behind the faint smiles on those porcelain faces.

If those faces should ever wake, those secrets are safe with the surgeon who has already vowed to keep them.

Learn more at auntgertrudeshouse.com.

Print Headline: Watchful eyes, Cherie Gorden mends family history for herself and her clients at Sisters Doll Hospital in Guthrie.

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