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2013-12-12

Holiday doll display for sale

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

For many years, David and Mona Rollison parked their trailer at the Frontier Times Museum at this time of year so that people could enjoy seeing their collection of restored Christmas scene dioramas. Each of the eight scenes portrays a family participating in a Christmas tradition from days past.
Now in their 70s, the couple have reluctantly decided to put their collection up for sale.
"They want to see it go to someone who can maintain and use them," said daughter Lisa Rollison.
The Rollisons believe that the dioramas, thought to have been manufactured in the late 1930s or early 40s, would make a unique holiday display for a business.
Their research revealed that the original display included 28 different scenes. The earliest known owner was the Rothmoore, Cain-Sloan Company, an exclusive department store in Nashville.
Through the years, the collection was broken up and the whereabouts of many are unknown. Some of the scenes ended up in a Galveston warehouse where they sat for years.
In 1990, the Rollisons acquired eight scenes with each scene containing from two to seven dolls. Twenty-seven of the 30 dolls in the collection move.
At the time of the purchase, the scenes were in various stages of deterioration. Clothing needed to be repaired or replaced. Some of the dolls needed restoration and repair of their body parts. Wooden pieces had rotted.
As a work of love and creativity, the spirit of the original was maintained during the restoration process upon which the Rollisons spent a decade.
David set up the refurbished electrical and mechanical systems on a timing system to avoid the wear and tear of continuous operation.
A series of motors, gear boxes, levers, chains, v-belts and rods animate the dolls. The system is fairly basic and requires minimal upkeep or repair. David left a panel open under one scene so that visitors can observe the intricate mechanisms that move the dolls.
For the sledding scene, he even painted the background, using skills he learned in one of Olga Bolduc's painting classes at the Silver Sage Corral.
As Mona told Courier editor Judith Pannebaker in an earlier interview, a clerk helping her search out fabric to reconstruct one of the doll's costumes recalled seeing the display in the 1940s in Galveston - probably at Ibans Department Store. "She couldn't have been more than four or five years old at the time and she remembered seeing it all these years," Mona said. "These (scenes) are wonderful because they make memories for people."
Mona's contribution to the extensive restoration project included scouring thrift shops for vintage material which she turned into "new" old clothes for the automatons; papering walls depicting "at home" scenes; and creating wigs for the dolls from her own saved hair - and that of her daughter. "Who says you can't be immortal," she quipped.
The couple began opening the display to guests at their home in December of 2003. In 2005, they began the tradition of parking the trailer at the Frontier Times Museum.
The dioramas are housed in an 8x20 foot office trailer with jacks at each corner for easy stabilization. Detachable metal steps with a spacious landing and handrails allow for safe entry and exit.
The interior of the trailer includes good lighting and an AC unit.
During its years in Bandera, the display has proven popular with young and old alike, bringing back memories for the latter and creating new ones for the former.
In addition to being a business enhancement, the Rollisons think the collection would also make a unique item to be shared with family and friends during the season. The dioramas can remain in the trailer for storage and viewing, or individual scenes can be removed for display in another setting.
The asking price for this unusual and beautiful holiday treasure is $15,000. The dioramas can be viewed by appointment. Call 830-460-8080 for more information.