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Realistic dolls go for big money at Billings doll show

Realistic dolls go for big money at Billings doll show

Jacklyn Damm has two children but she’s made more than 50 babies. The Fairview resident creates ultrarealistic dolls and sells them for as much as $1,500 at craft and doll shows around the country, including this weekend at Billings Hotel and Convention Center.

“People collect them for different reasons,” Damm said. “I thought they’d only be doll collectors, but we get a lot of empty nesters. People will buy them for the elderly for therapeutic purposes.”

Damm’s dolls look so realistic, people often mistake the vinyl babies for live children when she carries them in public. A flight attendant once instructed her to secure a seat belt on her doll during a flight. Damm humorously complied and waited for the attendant to realize her error, but she never did. The dolls are so frequently mistaken for the real thing, she doesn’t even correct people anymore.

Damm started making reborn dolls about eight years ago. Her first efforts were far from the polished products she markets now. She attended a few classes and through practice learned new tricks. She “micro roots” mohair or human hair strand by strand into the doll’s scalp using a swirl pattern, the way human hair grows. Damm uses glass eyes made by German artists and weights the dolls with glass beads and polyester fiber to make them look and feel real.

The reborn dolls trend started with enthusiasts removing the paint from factory-produced baby dolls before refinishing them with more lifelike appearances. Since then, artists and sculptors started creating molds and selling blank canvas kits.

Damm said she purchases the vinyl doll parts in various sizes, mimicking children from premature newborns to toddlers. Some of the kits are limited run with the artists destroying the molds after producing a few hundred or less.

Reborners color the vinyl parts with heat set paint before throwing the babies in the oven to cure the pigments. Damm said the paint is heat set between each thin coat to create the translucent depth of human skin.

“If you forget it’s in the oven because you’re on Facebook, you’ll end up with a pile of molten vinyl,” Damm said.

She said it’s easy to make costly mistakes and ruin the doll completely. A quick search on eBay yields dozens of dolls. Some are very poorly finished with obvious mistakes or dressed in strange gothic clothing. Damm chooses to sell her dolls only in person.

“I want to meet the people and know they’re going to be good to the baby and not make them into a vampire or something,” she said.

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General assignment reporter for the Billings Gazette.

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