Dolls come to life

Nap time is over for the ruddy-cheeked infant.

Laura Berry picks up baby Kyle from his bouncy chair. His chubby arm stretches as she cradles his body and covers his tiny, curled toes with a blanket.

She puts a pacifier in his mouth and smooths his wispy hair.

“Everyone loves Kyle,” she says, adoringly.

Want him? He’s up for grabs on eBay.

“He has to go. He can’t stay here forever,” Berry said. “He needs a new mom.”

He’s not her flesh and blood, he’s her craft.

The Marysville doll artist crafted him from a kit. His perfect skin comes from being baked numerous times in the oven to set the paint, his hair from repeated pricks into his scalp with a sewing needle.

Berry, 43, is part of the craze for “reborn” dolls that resemble a human baby as much as possible. It’s a realm where make-believe toys take on real identities. Berry even hand signs a birth certificate for her dolls.

It can be loosely compared to using a model kit to make a car. Reborn doll crafters assemble, paint and accessorize doll forms and parts made by sculptors using molds or live body scans.

The result are dolls that look and feel so real it’s freaky. We’re talking blue veins, mottled complexion, blistered lips, floppy necks, runny noses and beating hearts.

Berry’s dolls, selling for $200 to $500, come with a warning not to leave the baby unattended in public. Recently in California, bystanders busted windows in a parked car to rescue a reborn doll in a car seat on a hot day.

Custom orders are the mainstay of Berry’s home business, Forever Angels Reborn Dolls. An online search found a few other reborn doll vendors in Snohomish County.

Buyers include mothers who have lost babies “and are memorializing them in some way,” Berry said. “Some are doll collectors or moms of grown kids. You get a baby fix.”

Berry got started four years ago when, intrigued by the realness of the dolls and sentimental that her kids were no longer babies, she ordered a reborn doll. It arrived with a defective magnet inside the mouth to latch a pacifier. The seller gave her instructions how to repair it.

“She walked me through how to reassemble and fix it,” Berry said, “and it dawned on me that I could do this.”

The stay-at-home mom has plenty of company while her husband Mark is at work at Boeing and her two real kids, Ryan, 10, and Ashley, 12, are at school.

In an upstairs nursery of her suburban home is Kyle’s bouncy chair and a crib shared by three snoozing baby girls, strollers at the ready. A work desk is splayed with infant body parts.

“This is for a lady who lost her child who would be 9 years old,” she said of a work in progress.

She uses a kit that best matches the features from the pictures of the baby.

Drawers hold components and stuffing.

“I try to give them the weight of a real baby. I put them on the scale and weigh them,” Berry said.

Babies can come anatomically correct, baby powder scented, whatever the customer wants.

Clothes are the finishing touch.

“I take them to the mall when I’m looking for outfits. I like to find the right outfit,” Berry said.

Her daughter, Ashley, takes it in stride.

“It’s funny to see people’s expressions,” Ashley said. “Like, ‘How old is your baby?’ Or, ‘Is that real?’ ”

She doesn’t flinch when her mom pulls a tray of baby body parts from the oven. The heat bakes on the layers of the paint to enhance skin tones and details; a doll might require 20 trips to the oven.

“At first it was kind of creepy, but I kind of got used to it. I’m like ‘whatever,’ ” Ashley said. “It is kind of cool because it is almost like real, like, ‘Whoa!’ ”

She warns her friends about her mom’s peculiar nursery before they come to her house the first time.

The handiwork isn’t limited to infants.

“Now she’s making one that looks exactly like me when I was a toddler,” Ashley said.

Berry plans to make a dolls of her son as a baby.

Creating the dolls is a tedious, hands-on process.

“I start off with the veins and then I do the skin then the mottling and the blush colors and the tiny fingernails, then the hair,” Berry said. “The hardest part of doing the doll is the hair. It is micro-rooted with a small needle, strand-by-strand.”

She tells about the time she was doing the hair on a doll’s finished head at her son’s taekwondo class at the YMCA. “This lady had this horrific look on her face. It’s too much realism to be poking needles in babies’ heads in public, so now I keep it at home,” she said.

Her husband pitches in as needed. “He helps me drill the noses open,” she said. “That to me is more disturbing than anything. The other day we were doing one and I had to walk away, but it’s part of the process.”

Berry takes the dolls to retirement centers for residents to hold.

“They tell me about their kids and what it was like when they were a baby,” she said. “I’ve gotten in trouble from some of the elderly people who say, ‘How dare you bring this baby in here, they’re going to get a cold or sick.’ ”

Berry, a former Air Force Reservist, grew up in a house with a different genre of dolls.

“My mother was a ventriloquist,” she said. “She had a custom dummy made to look like her.”

Berry doesn’t plan to make replicas of adults. She limits it to little ones.

“I don’t want people to have the perception I’m the freaky doll lady,” she said. “These are pieces of art and made with love.”

More at www.foreverangelsreborndolls.com.

Send What’s Up With That? suggestions to Andrea Brown at 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown. Read more What’s Up With That? at www.heraldnet.com/whatsup.

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