Four-foot-tall mannequin models of Wyatt Earp, Maria Scholte, Dominie Hendrik Scholte baptizing a baby and a pioneer blacksmith adorn the north side of Pella’s Klokkenspel. The weather and years have not been kind to their nearly 40-year-old clothes and frames. Amelia Brown and Fynn Wadsworth, Central College Class of 2025 students, are working to restore these figures for Tulip Time 2023.
The Klokkenspel, owned by the Pella Historical Society, was built in 1984. One incredible feature is the figurine performance, which occurs five times a day. Eight mannequins portray various historical figures who impacted Pella. Brown and Wadsworth, along with Emily Wassink, Class of 2025, restored four Klokkenspel mechanical miniatures in 2022 after an invitation from the Pella Historical Society.
Lessons learned from the 2022 restorations streamlined work in 2023 for Brown and Wadsworth. They learned that the mannequin bodies absorb a lot of paint, Brown explains. This year, they painted the entire bodies and faces with white paint, like a primer, and then completely repainted new faces and skin. Brown and Wadsworth also learned how to remove the fabric and affix it so it will be easier to remove in the future.
“We had to reattach an arm of the blacksmith and rebuild the legs of Dominie Scholte,” Brown says. “We are looking for casting plaster to stabilize the legs. Wyatt Earp’s gun holster was made of plastic that has basically crumbled apart so we will need to recreate a holster. We are using different materials this year.”
“These figures are mechanical and supported with metal stands that are rusty. We put a layer of varnish over the metal so that our hands and the clothes didn’t get covered in orange rust,” Wadsworth says. “Compared to last year, there is a lot more work to restore these mannequins. Fortunately, we also received the figurines much earlier, giving us more time to work on them.”
“Last year we had tried to sew new costumes using patterns for a child but that didn’t work because the figures are so skinny. We ended up gluing fabric together because we ran out of time. This year we will sew new clothing,” Brown says.
The behind-the-scenes work is well worth it for Brown and Wadsworth. The four figurines were installed last year with rave reviews. “They look cleaner, brighter and are more stable in terms of construction,” Wadsworth says.
With assistance from Mat Kelly, professor of art; Brian Roberts, professor of art and a 1992 Central graduate; and Susan Swanson, associate professor of art, Brown and Wadsworth have gained great career-building skills.
“We definitely had to do a lot of problem-solving. We got a really good taste of what we would do for commissioned or freelance jobs. For example, we have a lot of freedom yet we’re checking with the client to make sure a change would be okay. We talk about what we can change and still be authentic,” Wadsworth says. “I want to go into museum studies and restoration. So, this project has been incredibly helpful.”
Brown is considering costume design, so this commissioned project is a positive experience. The fabric work, sewing knowledge, painting techniques, color mixing and challenge of finding just the right red are all helpful for her career goals.
“We have collaborated with every art professor to try to solve the challenges with this project. It’s been very interesting to see how their knowledge can help us fix these problems,” Wadsworth says.