Woman 'inherits' responsibility of finding home for 4,000 antique dolls

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PROVO — Thousands of antique dolls that are part of a shuttered museum collection are in search of a new home.

Nancy Bentley said the roughly 4,000 dolls of the Laura McCurdy Clark collection have been mothballed for well over a decade in the old carriage house in Provo that once served as their museum space.

“It’s very extensive,” Bentley said, looking over seemingly endless cabinets of dolls, some of which date back to at least the early 1900s. “I think it was really hard for my grandmother to let go of these things.”

Bentley’s grandparents, Shirley and Monroe Paxman, operated the museum for close to two decades, but Shirley passed away in 2015 and Monroe died last September.

“There was a lot of care that went into these,” Bentley said.

The collection features a variety of styles of dolls, from wax to porcelain to cloth, that document everything from the provincial dress and life of Spain to “Bible women.”

Individual dolls came from as far away as Germany and France.

“We find the historic value of them as playthings, but — even though it’s not used as much anymore as a plaything — we like the historical significance of that,” Bentley said.

While many of the dolls capture “life and love,” Bentley admits some exude their share of creepiness.

One doll that is a part of the collection has three faces. Several feature frowns and unpleasant looks.

“That one in the corner there — she is wax and her face is peeling off and her expression is a little concerning — not really what you’d want in a doll,” Bentley said of one doll on the first floor of the carriage house. “I just think she’s angry and she’s falling apart.”

One doll upstairs that features sharp blue eyes and is losing her hair disturbs Bentley the most.

“She talks,” Bentley said. “The endless things that she says are creepy to me.”

Among the phrases the doll uttered in the presence of a news crew was, “my eyes are magic — I can see through anything!”

Bentley was already well aware of the stories.

“My grandmother told us — all of the grandkids — that at night the dolls would get out of their cases and mingle and then go back in different places,” Bentley said. “I think that they’re enchanted. I don’t think that they’re haunted, necessarily.”

Bently moved from California in February and her friend, Kandus Linde, moved from Michigan to come back to Provo and secure the dolls’ future.

Since that time, it’s been tireless work organizing and cataloging.

“It was almost around-the-clock,” Bentley said. “Now, we’ve become very attached to them!”

With the carriage house and neighboring home set to be sold, the two women are trying to find a new home for the dolls — either through a local business, museum or partnership with a private investor.

“A doll museum, maybe?” Linde questioned. “We’re looking at grants as well.”

Bentley is in the process of trying to sell many of the dolls online.

She’d like, however, to keep the majority of the historic dolls together. Bentley said she didn’t think they’d like to be separated.

“I think the dolls would be upset, I think my grandparents would be upset, and I think Laura McCurdy Clark would be upset,” Bentley said.

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Andrew Adams
Andrew Adams is a reporter for KSL-TV whose work can also be heard on KSL NewsRadio and read on KSL.com and in the Deseret News.


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