SOME FIND them a means of hanging onto fond memories of childhood. Others live out dreams through them. Some find them an art form; others make them a business. One thing certain, however, is that dolls and doll houses are not just for children anymore.
Which means that there'll be something for kids of all ages at major doll and miniature shows throughout the spring and summer, including an interesting one this Sunday at the Bauer Drive Recreation Center in Rockville. There will be judgings, demonstrations and exhibitions ranging from Barbie dolls and teddy bears with mainly sentimental value to porcelain dolls that warrant a very careful look at the checking account balance before you buy.
Some doll houses also belong in the high-rent district, particularly miniatures decorated with hand-crafted furniture. It's not uncommon for a miniature of a historic Chippendale table to cost more than $300.
"Dolls have become an art form. They are so elegant in many cases that they are not dolls anymore," says Prestine Johnson of Silver Spring, a miniatures maker and cochairman of judging at the Montgomery County Doll and Miniature Festival. "I think dolls hold their fascination because everyone wants to go into their past a little, but people with vision can see that the dolls of today will be the antiques of tomorrow."
Although miniatures are a business for Johnson, she also fulfills some of her lifelong dreams through them.
"How many people can go out and have the piece of furniture or the gold silverware they always wanted?" says Johnson. "Through miniatures, I can afford to have all those things."
The past few years have seen Barbie dolls, the best-selling dolls of all-time, elbowing into the spotlight at doll shows. Karen Yoho of Greenbelt, who owns more than 100 different types of Barbies and friends, will display much of her collection at the Montgomery festival.
"Like a lot of other girls, I grew up with Barbie," says Yoho, a public relations assistant for an advertising company. "A lot of other dolls have come and gone over the years, but I think Barbie survived because she was so easy to adapt. She changed with the times."
Yoho, now 27, has been collecting Barbies since she was four. Like some people who never lose their admiration for dolls, she was afraid to admit it as she grew up.
"From the time I was 15 to the time I was about 20, I didn't tell anyone," says Yoho. "Then I found out there were other people like me, so I just called myself a collector, and it's been all right ever since."
Johnson, who chiefly deals with items whose owners cringe whenever children even come close, adds that it's important for shows to remember their roots. begins.
"Some of the ladies are so into these things, and some are so expensive, sometimes kids are forgotten," says Johnson. "At the Montgomery show this year, we will have a special category just for best-loved teddy bears. Things like this have a personality of their own. On a depressing day, it is great to have that fat, furry thing around to hug."
Johnson has also been delighted by the trend toward more and more amateurs making their own accessories, clothes and even porcelain dolls, which cost hundreds of dollars at retail.
"I don't know what the attraction is -- maybe it is just taking the clay and making something of it,"says Jean Edwards of Rockville, an exhibitor at the Montgomery festival who will demonstrate the use of "greenware" -- a special clay-based mixture -- that must be poured into a mold, then fired, painted and outfitted as a porcelain doll.
"The dolls seem to bring everybody together," says Edwards. "We talk about ways to make dolls better . . . I am continually amazed by the ability of the human mind for many people to start with the same mold and come up with such different creations. In all my years of teaching, I have never had a student make an ugly doll." ALL DOLLED UP
The following spring and summer doll and miniature shows in the area will feature items appealing to professional dealers, amateur collectors and spectators of all ages.
SATURDAY -- Show and sale of miniature doll houses, furniture and accessories, Falls Church Community Center, 223 Little Falls St., Falls Church, 10 to 5. Includes demonstrations and door prizes. Admission $3 adults; kids 12 and under, $1. 534-5293.
SUNDAY -- Montgomery County Doll and Miniature Festival, Bauer Drive Recreation Center, 14625 Bauer Drive, Rockville. 11 to 4. Admission $1; children 5 and under free with adult. For information, call 468-4210.
MAY 18 -- Fourth Annual Show and Sale of Doll Houses and Miniatures, Holiday Inn, 1960 Chain Bridge Road, Tysons Corner. 10 to 5. Admission $3 adults, $1 children. For information, 978-5353.
JUNE 14-15 -- World's Fair of Collectibles, Washington Convention Center, 900 Ninth Street NW. June 14, 10 to 7; June 15, 11 to 4. Admission $4 for one day, $6 for both. For information, phone 301/329-2188.
AUGUST 1-2 -- Dolls and collectibles. Holiday Inn, Tysons Corner, 1960 Chain Bridge Road, Tysons Corner. August 1, 6 to 10;. August 2, 11 to 5. Admission $3 each day. For information, phone 301/329-2188.