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Sunday, May 6, 2012


Making babies: ‘Reborn’ doll artist creates lifelike dolls


Posted: Monday, May 7, 2012

Connor Olson knows the tales about storks dropping off babies to loving parents.
But for the 19-year-old La Crosse woman, the postal worker plays the part of the stork.
Her bundles of joy come to her in pieces. She then paints and puts them together. Olson is a reborn doll artist. She’s been doing it for five years.
Reborn dolls are life-like figurines tailor made to look so lifelike that many people can’t the difference between real babies and the dolls, even from a few feet away.
“The only difference,” Olson says, “is they never grow up, or outgrow their clothes or spit up.”
Reborns are often collected as art. Sometimes, young women get them if they want a baby but know they can’t afford a real one quite yet. What makes them somewhat controversial, though, is that some people use the dolls to fill the void of a lost baby or pretend it’s real, talking to it and taking it out in public. It’s an unusual subculture, to say the least.
Amber Wall is a Massachusetts collector who owns three of Olson’s reborns: two toddlers named Britton and Bradyn and a newborn, Corbin. She bought them through an Internet business Olson runs to market her dolls.
Wall always takes a new reborn out on the town when it arrives in the mail. They don’t go everywhere with her, but if she’s sitting at home bored, she’ll take one out for a walk.
There’s just something about them, Wall said. And on a basic level, the dolls are works of art. She was captured by Olson’s paint work.
“And it’s cool how young she is,” Wall said. “She’s outgoing and very passionate with what she does. She puts in so much, and how she talks about them, you know she loves it.”
For Olson, the hours spent crafting the babies are an artistic process. Forty hours to blush and shade the limbs, paint the lips and add creases and veins to the skin. Thirty hours to root the hair, one strand at a time.
She runs the Internet business, selling the dolls to moms across the world. She orders the body parts online, and can make reborns to look similar to baby photos provided by the customer.
“I enjoy watching the process from start to finish,” she said. “It’s so special.”
Her obsession with reborns sparked at 10 years old when she was searching the Internet for dolls. Up popped a reborn.
Olson was taken with the realism, the detail. She had to have it.
Like many drawn to the dolls, she became consumed with them from that point, researching how to make them and examining photos of real babies for mental note. Even while babysitting, she paid close attention to the veins and skin color of the youngsters.
Olson has been making dolls since she was a girl.
Olson removed the paint from one of her regular dolls at home one night when she was 11, applying her own coloring. She gave it a wig and showed her mom.
“My goodness,” Pam Olson remembers saying. “You did it. It turned out fine.”
Olson’s self-taught skill only grew as she got older.
“I’m just amazed sometimes how much they look like a real baby,” she said.
The process of making one is, of course, much different from how real babies are made.
Olson reaches her hand up through the hollow head and pushes in the eyes through the sockets. She adds a magnet on the mouth to hold the pacifier in place and a hair bow for decoration. She fills the body with poly pellets and adds a baby powder scent.
Olson sets up shop at her grandmother’s house. Doll parts have taken over the spare bedroom.
A four-drawer cabinet holds an empty body, plastic bags of hair and a measuring tape. A laundry basket keeps the clothes, spare limbs and heads. In the closet, filling for the bodies, spare eyes, a hot-glue gun and extra arms and legs.
Finally, she twists the limbs onto the body, and measures and weighs the reborn.
Next, she picks a name.
The final test comes when Olson takes the baby to a store. If someone ohs and ahs over the doll, it’s a success.
She gently wraps it up and tucks the doll into a box to be shipped, adding a blanket, brush and a few outfits.
It’s a full-time job for the high school senior. She works on the reborns during the day and takes online classes by night.
“I’ve always had a passion for babies,” Olson said. “They’re a priority.”
Olson doesn’t have any children yet — she’s not ready for the real thing — but plans to have up to three later on.
Until then, she’ll watch over her four personal reborns, and pass the love of them to others with each doll she makes.
“It’s like an art form,” Olson said, slowly pulling a tiny brush with blue paint across a doll head to form a vein. “It starts as blank canvas.”

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