Sunday August 19, 2012

WILLIAMSTOWN

Two area women are turning heads at area crafts airs with handmade dolls that are so life-like shoppers have to look twice to know if they are real newborn babies.

"OK. It literally looks like they are selling babies," said one passerby at the recent Ethnic Fair in Pittsfield, where the dolls were on display, lying in baskets and sitting in rocking chairs.

From the individual strands of wispy hair to the uneven white tips of their fingernails, the dolls are so imperfect; they replicate a newborn baby perfectly.

Each is hand-crafted, taking up to 20 hours of work by sisters Julie Crosier and Kathi George.

Crosier and George, who live in North Bennington, Vt., and Williamstown respectively, debuted the dolls under the name Until Forever Nursery at Williamstown's Summer Sundays street fair in early July.

Response has been overwhelmingly positive, they both said. And they are having fun with it as well.

One recent Sunday, a visitor to their booth said, "The dolls are all well and good, but I like the real thing," motioning toward the "baby" George was holding. She was "flabbergasted" when George told her she was holding a doll too.

"I tell people when they buy one" George said, "'Don't leave this doll uncovered on the back seat of your car with the windows rolled all the way up because someone will call the police.'"

She was not joking.


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One buyer told them she was scolded by a toll-booth attendant for having the "baby" in a basket the front seat of her car rather than a safety seat. The woman had to pick up the doll and shake it to show the attendant it was not alive, George laughed.

Another customer told the sisters she used one of the dolls to use in a film prop stand-in for a real baby.

George, a mother of four grown children, started making cloth dolls 35 years ago. Her "Kira K." dolls, named for her then-only daughter Kira Kathleen, became well-known in local craft circles.

A few years ago, Crosier joined her sister and began making clothes for the dolls, which they then called "Love You So" dolls.

"Last winter, we did craft fairs every weekend, both days. We completely saturated the area with my dolls. Everyone who wanted one, had one," George said.

So, she decided to try something new -- a process called "reborning." George and Cro sier buy vinyl doll "sculpts," which come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors, but have no detail or visual dimensions.

The sisters then create life-like features by painting, one layer at a time, the details of a human child, including the purple and blue veins, multiple tones of eyebrow and lip colors, the blush of the cheeks and the white tips of their tiny finger and toe nails.

Between each layer of paint, the sculpt is baked in the oven to set the paint.

Each doll takes eight to 10 layers of nontoxic heat-set paint to capture all of the detail and imperfections of a human baby.

George taught herself how to make the dolls by watching tutorials on YouTube and by practicing.

She uses Q-tips, paint brushes and cosmetic wedges to create the effects she envisions for each doll.

The hair and eyelashes, made of mohair from Angora goats, is rooted with a scalping needle one strand at a time, taking four to six hours for each doll.

The body, head and limbs are filled and weighted with fine glass sand and fiber fill.

Each doll weighs between four and seven pounds and measures between 18 and 22 inches -- much like a typical newborn baby. The bodies are weighted so that when held, the head must be supported just like a newborn.

"The first one I made, she brought tears to my eyes. She looked so real," George said.

And when Crosier saw that first doll, she knew she had to make one too.

Now, "there are arms and legs everywhere," Crosier joked in the midst of preparing for a recent craft show. 

Crosier, a personal trainer and substitute teacher by profession, has dabbled in painting, but said she makes dolls for the fun of it.

Her own children are so used to seeing the dolls in progress that her 16-year-old son, upon seeing a batch of painted body parts come out of the oven, recently groaned, "Mom, we're not having babies again for dinner, are we?"

Crosier has twice taken custom orders to match a doll with a live baby. Using a photograph of the live infant, she searched online for a sculpt that best matched the features of the baby and then proceeded to paint the details of the face and body and attach hair of a similar texture and color.

"I am amazed that there is not a typical customer," Crosier said. They have in-cluded doll collectors, grandmothers buying for children and men buying for wives and mothers. One man bought one for his mother, who has dementia.

Studies have shown that dolls, which have a calming effect and can lower blood pressure, are good for adults with Alzheimer's and dementia, said Crosier, adding "they bring out a person's nurturing aspect."

In fact, Crosier and George are donating one of their dolls to the Hoosick Falls (N.Y.) Health Center, where both of their parents lived for a time.

Neither Crosier nor George envisions Until Forever Nur sery growing greatly in business because both would like to keep it small and personal.

"Right now, we just want to support our habit," Crosier said, explaining that it costs more than $100 for the materials to make each doll. "We want to be able to afford to make another doll."

"We don't want it to be huge," agreed George, who is an assistant in the physical-education department at Willi amstown Elementary School. "We are not trying to make a living. It's just a hobby."

Until Forever Nursery was named in honor of Crosier and George's parents who had "Until Forever" inscribed in their wedding bands, and now on their headstones.

"It is a perfect dedication to them," Crosier said. "And our newborns never get older."