Pam Brown, 63, of Wilton, doesn’t look at mannequins in the same way other people do.

When she walked into a new store in Farmington recently, she scrutinized the hair, the hands, the makeup, barely noticing the clothes it displayed.

“A lot of the time, they’ll have these old horrible wigs on them,” said Brown, a former art teacher. “They’re awful. “

In her opinion, the mannequin in the store in Farmington needs lipstick.

“But I can’t go in there and offer to paint its lips!” she exclaims, her hands thrown up in the air as if in surrender.

Brown started refurbishing mannequins when she was a window display artist for a department store in Austin, Texas.

“I just came to really enjoy working on them. I was like a kid in a candy store. So much fun, but a real challenge.”

She equates assembling a mannequin to a jigsaw puzzle, never knowing which body the arms, legs, hands or feet are going to match.

Then there is the patch work – filling in chips, fixing fingers, repainting and then adding the finishing touches, like highlights in the eyes.

“When I put the false eyelashes on them, they just come alive. It’s awesome. … Most of them are in terrible shape, and it’s fun to bring them back to perfection.”

Brown has parts to three or four mannequins in the basement of her home. She chuckles when she remembers the time she forgot to warn the telephone man. He was a little scared by all the naked forms of women, she said.

She also remembers driving across Texas and Arizona with an SUV full of dismembered mannequins.

And the moving van driver in Texas who wanted one to ride shotgun when Brown moved back to Maine 11 years ago.

After returning to Wilton, she rehabbed all of the displays at the Wilton Farm and Home Museum.

That came with its own set of challenges, since modern mannequins are much taller than the clothes she was trying to display. And she has had a hard time finding shoes to fit.

She has just two more mannequins to restore before moving on to another project. But she likes to wait before adding the finishing touches.

“When I don’t know what I’m going to do with them, I just leave it be and mull it over.”

And Brown is still searching for a way to perfectly restore fingers, which are the most delicate part due to their hollow structure. If she repairs them with plaster of Paris, they crumble. If she uses Sculpey, a polymer clay commonly used on movie sets, she must cure it in the oven, which would destroy the mannequin hand.

“If I can’t fix the fingers, I just hide them. Every project I do, I have to improvise.”


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