More than 8,000 dolls line the walls and floor of Arnett’s Doll Museum in Newport. It all started with one doll that Virginia Arnett got in 1970.
Arnett, who owns the doll collection at the museum, said the first doll she got was “a little modern doll that was about 14 inches tall.”
Her original plan was to fix up the doll to donate to a local church to give to a needy child, but after cleaning the doll up and fixing its hair, Arnett changed her mind.
“I just fell in love with it,” Arnett said. “It wasn’t long until I had 50 dolls sitting in the living room.”
Arnett has always loved dolls, she said.
“I always thought they were cute.”
As her collection grew, she said, her son started asking questions.
“My son came home from college one day and called me and said, ‘Mother, you need to see a doctor,’” Arnett said. “I asked him why, and he said, ‘I went home and went into the living room, and I couldn’t believe it. You had dolls all over.’”
Her collection kept growing, and in 1987, her husband built a new house, along with two buildings specifically for her doll collection. One of those buildings now houses Arnett’s Doll Museum.
“I had half my house in dolls before I moved them out [to what is now the museum]. My husband said he wanted his house back. He came out here and started building,” Arnett said.
Before the buildings were finished, Arnett opened her home to visitors who wanted to see her collection. She also ran a “doll hospital,” where she would fix broken dolls for people.
Annetta Prince has been working with Arnett as her caregiver since June and said Arnett doesn’t get to come out to her collection very often because she can’t get around as well as she used to.
“She used to work out here constantly. She was out here every day,” Prince said. “She sometimes would just work right through lunch and forget about eating and stay out here until it was dark.”
Most of the dolls in Arnett’s collection wear clothes that she made specifically for the dolls.
“She’ll get an older doll and redo it, and she can get a composition doll, and she would rebuild them,” Prince said. “She would do that to all of the dolls. If they were washed out, she would paint them or put makeup on them.”
Composition dolls are made by sawdust and glue being poured into a mold, Arnett said.
“That’s what was around before hard-plastic dolls,” she said. “I really like fixing the compositions. When I clean them up, I have to take all of the old paint off, right down to the glue.”
Arnett uses wood putty to fill in any holes in the doll’s head, she said.
“Then I put primer on them and two or three coats of paint on them. It takes about two weeks to put them on display,” Arnett said.
Even though Arnett has 8,000 dolls in her collection, she does have a favorite.
“Shirley Temple is my favorite,” she said.
More information about Arnett’s Doll Museum is available by calling (870) 523-2194.