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Photos: Inside Covington's Little Flower Doll Hospital

Dolls passed through generations of family members can become worn and weathered throughout the years but when a head falls off, a face gets dirty, or an original dress is ripped there is sanctuary.

Nestled in a tiny upstairs office on Covington's Madison Avenue is a wife and husband team of plastic surgeons. And glass surgeons, whatever the case may be.

Sheila and Don Lubbers operate the Little Flower Doll Hospital and have restored family treasures for the past fourteen years. After first welcoming damaged dolls to an office in Florence, Little Flower moved to the second floor of 428 Madison Avenue in 2007.

"Covington is a really great city," Sheila Lubbers said. "We try to walk to work and keep everything centralized." The Lubbers live in the Mutter Gottes neighborhood.

Sheila does most of the restoration work, repairing broken limbs and clothing and even creating new ones when necessary, while Don has become an expert on eye restoration and on restoring the mechanical boxes hidden in the guts of speaking dolls and toys. 

Her work as a doll surgeon of sorts arrived after a path led Sheila through careers with some of Cincinnati's most iconic department stores such as Pogue's and Giddings where she created window displays, while her education at the Art Academy also prepared her for the hands-on labor of bringing nearly-lost herilooms back to glory.

It all started when Sheila began teach doll-making and art classes at Covington's Baker Hunt.

Now Little Flower has carved a niche in a region without many options for such work and attracts return customers, the hospital's most common patrons, from around the region, and sometimes, the country.

The Lubbers can restore dolls from the Victorian era to modern-day Barbies. "We try to keep everything as original as possible," Sheila said.

Their work extends beyond dolls and into statues, too. One statue of the Virgin Mary laid face down in water for nearly a hundred years before arriving at Little Flower and leaving with a new shine. Another statue, one of Saint Joseph holding the Baby Jesus which was missing a hand, also left with a new hand attached.

"We made the hand of God," Don joked. 

From body parts and eyes, the Lubbers can also restore doll wigs, sometimes with real human hair.

"I just see the merit in this," Sheila said.

So do her many customers, some of whom have retained a child-like attachment to dolls and toys from their past. The oldest doll to be serviced at Little Flower dated back to 1820. Recently, the pair fixed a Snoop Dogg figurine.

Little Flower Doll Hospital's name is derived from St. Therese of Lisieux, known as the Little Flower of Jesus. The saint once wrote, "How quickly those sunny years of early childhood passed away, and how sweet the memories they have left behind! I think with delight of the Sunday walks when our beloved Mother always accompanied us. Indeed, I can still feel the the vivid and poetic impressions made on my childish heart by the vision of the cornfields studded with cornflowers, poppies, and daisies. All the beauties of nature cast their spell upon me and raised my soul to Heaven."

For more information, visit: The Little Flower Doll Hospital.

-Michael Monks, editor