By Britt Kennerly, Florida Today
COCOA BEACH, FL - As a child, Eve Newsom had no interest in playing with dolls.
At 58, the Cocoa Beach artist embraces them as a creator of "reborns" - vinyl doll parts transformed into infant dolls so realistic that people who see Newsom's work often "are incredulous when they find out they're not human," she said.
For whatever reason, there's booming interest in the so-called reborns, first popular in the 1990s and featured recently on NBC's "Anderson" and ABC's "Wife Swap." Newsom, well-known in the reborn world, has been on a few programs herself, including "Inside Edition."
Her reborns, mostly sold on eBay, fetch from $200 to more than $2,000. Buyers tend to be women in their 20s and 30s, she said, with the dolls winding up in homes from Iceland to Germany to Florida. So realistic are Newsom's babies that on some, tiny, bluish "veins" show through almost-translucent "skin." On every teensy fingernail, lunula - those white crescents - are visible.
Creepy. Cute. Demonic. Delightful. Did someone mention creepy?
Newsom hears it all when she takes the dolls to restaurants and grocery stores, where she loves "watching how people react to them." Critics worry that women get too attached to the creations, especially women who've lost babies. The spin has been "somewhat negative," Newsom acknowledges, and she gets that: She's had seven miscarriages, and at 40, stopped trying to have children.
And yet, surrounded by reborns in her tastefully decorated home and with a tray of vinyl baby parts on the kitchen table, Newsom laughed at the idea of being called "crazy doll lady."
"There's a large percentage of people who think the artists and the people who purchase these dolls have some sort of mental disorder, because of the unusual fondness for them and because of the price," said Newsom, an Ohio native who got into "reborning" eight years ago after seeing dolls online.
"They're very expensive, and rightfully so. It takes a tremendous amount of skill to make them look like babies. I don't judge people on reasons for why they purchase my dolls. I just know I get tons of feedback from people saying they've prepared a room ... or that 'I love this baby. She fills this void.' I think it's only a problem if there's such an attachment to the degree that they're changing their diapers."
At last count, Newsom had crafted about 300 reborns. She meticulously treats arms, legs and heads with heat-set paints, baking them in her oven. "The finest mohair money can buy" is micro-rooted a strand at a time. Bodies are sewn and filled with micro-glass beads. Glass eyes are set in place. Each doll takes a week or longer to make.
Family reactions vary. Newsom's mother has her first reborn, which "looks like me," Newsom said. Her niece is "creeped out" by one doll in particular. Newsom's husband of six years, musician Bobby Lee, has been supportive and "is wonderful at picking out outfits for them," she said.
"They do give me a modicum of comfort and income," said Newsom, who can make a doll with a simulated heartbeat, too.
"One woman told me I'm sick. I've been told that what I'm doing is ungodly and that I should adopt. But adoption is not an option for some people."
As Newsom walked toward the beach with a doll named Finley in a baby carrier, a neighbor walked up, took a peek and asked, "Is this a new one?"
"I want to take her home as my granddaughter," said Sheila Pervell, touching the doll's fingers. "They're so realistic ... just beautiful work."
Newsom will produce the dolls "as long as I'm breathing" and wishes she could "make one for everyone who wants one."
"I've decided, I'm going to shoot for even higher standards of realism," she said. "I'm going to try to go where no other reborn artist has gone."
Which means? A solid-silicone reborn.
"When you're handling them, they jiggle," she said, cuddling Finley. "They feel like a real infant."