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Expert conservator from Japan visits Lincoln to care for 'friendship doll' at Morrill Hall

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The University of Nebraska State Museum at Morrill Hall welcomed an expert doll conservator from Japan this week to work on the museum's friendship doll exhibit, in hopes of preparing the doll for a future visit home.

Miss Mie was a gift to the United States as part of the friendship doll exchange between U.S. and Japanese students in the late 1920s, museum director Susan Weller said. Japan gave 58 friendship dolls to the United States in 1927, but only 47 remain.

Japanese Friendship Doll, 9.19

Masaru Aoki works on the 95-year-old Japanese friendship doll Miss Mie, which is on display at the University of Nebraska State Museum at Morrill Hall. Miss Mie was a gift to the United States as part of the friendship doll exchange between U.S. and Japanese students in the late 1920s, museum director Susan Weller said.

In honor of the Nebraska doll's Oct. 30 birthday, the museum invited the Japanese group Friends of Miss Mie to Lincoln to celebrate. According to Weller, Masaru Aoki, a conservator from the Yoshitoku Doll Co. in Tokyo, was willing to come and the museum paid his way so he could do conservation work on his "daughter."

"In Japanese culture, inanimate objects, be they dolls or stones or trees, have spirits," Weller said. "That's why (Aoki) refers to her as special, as his daughter or granddaughter."

Monday morning, Aoki examined Miss Mie for the third time in his career. The first time, in 1988, was the first doll restoration he ever did, followed by one in 2017.

"It's a great opportunity to teach that friendship dolls exist, especially for youth," Aoki said through a translator. "I am impressed by how well the museum has taken care of the doll and grateful to the museum for their attention to her details."

Japanese Friendship Doll, 9.19

Masaru Aoki works on the Japanese friendship doll Miss Mie on Monday. Each doll arrived with a number of accessories, including a passport, a steamship ticket, a wooden base with name plaque, lacquered clothing chests, shoes, two pedestal lanterns, a silk parasol, and many hand-written letters from Japanese children.

Laying out the doll's long-faded garments and maps of her different body parts across the table, Aoki carefully documented minute cracks and imperfections that emerged since his previous examination in 2017. He placed Miss Mie's body on a makeshift operation table of Styrofoam, propping her head up and covering her with a blanket.

"The condition is good, but each step takes a tremendous amount of time," Aoki said. "Applying special chemicals over and over, not just once. It won't be a quick process."

According to collections manager Katelyn Trammell, the delicate porcelain made of crushed oyster shells has cracks on the nose, ears, back of the neck and leg.

Aoki applied a chemical sealant to fix the cracks, but the doll's coating absorbs liquid like human skin, making it difficult to set and requiring multiple applications.

Japanese Friendship Doll, 9.19

Paint sits on a table as 95-year-old Japanese friendship doll Miss Mie is worked on Monday at the University of Nebraska State Museum at Morrill Hall, where she's on display.

"Being able to conserve her now gives us the best chance of sending her back to Japan for her 100th birthday," Trammell said. "That's Aoki's goal here — that she remains as stable as possible both for our own display and so she can go back to Japan."

The last time the museum sent her home was in 2017. At that time, Aoki noted the crack on her nose, but the crack on her leg emerged sometime between her 2017 departure from Japan and a 2019 condition report.

"Please take care of Miss Mie," Aoki said to the museum staff Monday. "Just like you did before. For five more years, 50 more years, 100 more years, please take care of her."

Miss Mie will be on display at Morrill Hall until Oct. 16 and will reemerge in 2027 for her 100th birthday.

Japanese Friendship Doll, 9.19

Masaru Aoki works on the 95-year-old Japanese friendship doll Miss Mie, which is on display at Morrill Hall. Miss Mie was a gift as part of the friendship doll exchange between U.S. and Japanese students in the late 1920s, museum director Susan Weller said.

Japanese Friendship Doll, 9.19

Each doll arrived with a number of accessories including a passport, a steamship ticket, a wooden base with name plaque, lacquered clothing chests, shoes, two pedestal lanterns, a silk parasol, and many hand-written letters from Japanese children.

Japanese Friendship Doll, 9.19

Masaru Aoki works on the 95-year-old Japanese friendship doll Miss Mie, which is on display at the University of Nebraska State Museum at Morrill Hall. Miss Mie was a gift to the United States as part of the friendship doll exchange between U.S. and Japanese students in the late 1920s, museum director Susan Weller said.

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Reach the writer at (402) 473-2657 or lpenington@journalstar.com

On Twitter @L_Penington.

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News intern

Lauren Penington, a Colorado native and current junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, reports on breaking news and feature stories as a news intern for the Journal Star.

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