Part-Time Passions: March 2010

Making porcelain dolls and playing Renaissance and baroque music

8 March 2010

Celia Desmond
Hello, Dolly!

cd Profession:

Celia Desmond can thank a casual comment from her husband 12 years ago for what has become her passion today. He told her about a local course on making porcelain dolls. She plunged in, and today, the IEEE senior member has created some 50 dolls, in both modern and antique styles, and is shopping a book on dollmaking techniques to publishers.

Desmond is founder of World Class Telecommunications, in Toronto. Her hobby has her making molds of the dolls' porcelain heads and limbs, painting the faces, and sewing their outfits. To keep her skills sharp, she attends classes taught by master dollmakers.

Modern and antique dolls are quite different. Modern ones can be painted however you like, but an antique needs to look like a doll from a specific period and manufacturer—each had its own style. Such a doll must re-create the exact look and style of how the face was drawn, how the mold was cast, and how the clothing was sewn, Desmond explains. "There's a rigid set of rules to follow," she says. "If you just copy it, it won't come out right. You have to put something of yourself in it, too."

There's also a significant difference in the amount of labor. A modern doll takes Desmond about 25 hours, but an antique replica can take her more than 100. And that's not counting all the time spent drying the paint and firing the doll parts in the kiln in her home workshop. Desmond creates castings of a doll's head and limbs (bodies are usually of leather, cloth, or a composition material) by pouring ceramic into a mold, then uses a surgeon's knife and special tools to delicately cut and sand sockets for glass eyes. The piece is then fired at about 675 ºC to harden it enough for a thorough smoothing and painting, then fired again at about 1200 ºC to turn it into porcelain.

For painting, Desmond follows technique sheets—photos of the original antique doll from its manufacturer and period, with instructions on details like the number of eyelashes. Next comes making the doll's clothing. This includes making the pattern, sewing, beading, and embroidering.

Dollmaking, like engineering, involves pain­stakingly meticulous work and a steady hand with delicate material, Desmond says. "In both, you need to know a lot of very specific information to do a good job."

light Profession:

Michael Lightner
Renaissance Man

IEEE Fellow Michael Lightner’s journey to Carnegie Hall took a lot more than just practice. It took musical and professional soul-searching, as he moved forward in his electrical engineering career.

Lightner, the 2006 IEEE president and chair of the electrical, computer, and energy engineering department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, performs in nearly half a dozen concerts a year as an early music woodwind player. He plays Renaissance and baroque music on replicas of the antique recorders and flutes of those periods.

These instruments are harder to play than their modern descendants because they have fewer keys and require more complex fingerings and breath direction. In a modern equal-tempered musical scale, the 12 notes in an octave are equally spaced. Not so for the notes in an octave as played on a baroque wind instrument. “Playing fast passages on early instruments can be difficult but also leads to a nuanced sound, which is one of the reasons I got into 17th- and 18th-century music,” Lightner says.

Lightner performs with various ensembles, including the Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado and a duo with his wife.

His interest in playing early woodwinds didn’t develop until grad school. While at the University of Florida in Gainesville, he spent the summer at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center, in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., working with IEEE Fellow Gary Hachtel, who in his free time played baroque recorder, as well as piano. Captivated, Lightner took baroque recorder lessons and, back in Florida, signed up for music classes. He even dropped out of his Ph.D. program for a year to study early music full-time. (He completed his Ph.D. in EE at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, in 1979.)

It was in 1988, while on sabbatical at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., and studying in the evenings at Mannes College, the New School for Music, in New York City, that Lightner achieved the musician’s Holy Grail: He played at Carnegie Hall as a member of the school’s recorder ensemble, in a Christmas program. “Even with a lot of people onstage I still felt nervous, but it was a thrilling experience,” he says.

Music has also helped his career. “Performing has made me more comfortable speaking in front of a classroom or at IEEE meetings.”

If you have an interesting hobby you would like to share, e-mail the editors:

Photos: John Desmond (top), Linda Lumbeck (bottom)

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