Oh, baby, what a doll
It alarms guests a bit when Pat Moulton mentions the head baking in her oven. And then there are the little parts lying about. Some arms. A few legs. A tiny newborn rump. A closet in Moulton’s Post Falls home bulges with infant finery; fuzzy pastel-colored sleepers, dresses, onesies. Open packs of diapers perch on the shelf above.
Moulton, 57, hasn’t needed these things for her own children since the Carter administration.
Rather, these are the tools of her trade.
Moulton is a dollmaker, an award-winning one who can transform a blob of clay into a newborn baby so realistic it seems as if it might cry or poop or spit up at any moment.
“I love the realism,” she says.
This talent for sculpting teeny-tiny toe nails, perfect baby mouths and itty-bitty infant bottoms has made Moulton sought after by doll companies and collectors alike. And at doll shows, she may as well be a rock star.
“They take my picture and get my autograph,” the unassuming Moulton says. “I think it’s really funny.”
Moulton started sculpting dolls 26 years ago, teaching herself along the way. For years, she created older-looking dolls and was successful selling her work to doll companies.
And then, six years ago, she began working on baby dolls. Something clicked. She found her calling.
“It’s a passion,” says Moulton, who moved to Post Falls from Sacramento less than a year ago. “I have to do it … I’m not working. It’s so much pleasure for me.”
Moulton sculpts the baby-doll heads at a swivel table in her living room, often while watching TV on the couch. An anatomical model of a newborn’s skull sits on the table, surrounded by photos and clippings of baby faces.
She forms clay over a crumpled ball of aluminum foil and then uses a variety of tools to craft those lifelike eyes, ears, noses and mouths. For the tiniest babies, she creates peach-fuzz hair by pressing mohair into their scalps. In an upstairs studio, she puts the dolls together. Diapers them. Dresses them.
It often takes three or four days to sculpt a head to her satisfaction, a few hours for hands and arms.
“The more I learn, the longer I take,” she says.
Her creations, “sculpts” as they are called in the business, are then sent to one of several doll companies she works with, where they are mass-produced and often sold for hundreds of dollars.
Sometimes, she’ll design one-of-a-kind or limited-production pieces. Those typically sell for more than $1,000.
Moulton has won awards for many of those pieces, including “Autumn Leaf.” More of a figurine than a doll, it features a 6-inch newborn baby curled up on a golden leaf made of fabric. (Watching a leaf fall outside her window one day inspired her, she says.) The baby was sold to a gallery in Florida, but Moulton, like a protective mother, says it was tough to hand over her baby.
“Sometimes it’s hard for me to separate from them,” she says.
A close look at “Morning Bath,” one of Moulton’s latest creations, shows why her work is so sought after. A pink, chubby baby sits upright, his little fists curled, his wispy, blond hair framed by a pale blue hooded bath towel. His belly button – an innie – is wrinkled just-so. A pea-sized nail covers each finger and toe. And a couple of glistening tears dot his cheeks.
“Morning Bath” will be fashioned out of “baby-feels-so-real” silicone to be sold for $200 by Heartland Mint in the coming months.
“We’ve just always liked her personally,” says Steve DiGino, president of the San Diego-based Heartland Mint, who has worked with Moulton since 1998. “The collectors really like her stuff … In the last couple of years, babies are very, very popular.”
It’s that kind of exacting detail that drew Dr. Alane Laws-Barker to Moulton’s work. The Lansing, Mich., woman is a doll collector. But she’s also an obstetrician-gynecologist. And she has two children of her own. She knows what babies are supposed to look like.
“My life’s work is reflected in Pat’s art,” says Laws-Barker, 37, who has since become friends with Moulton. “She captures life. She doesn’t just do babies either sleeping or awake. She captures babies crying. She captures them in real-life situations. The detail is unbelievable.”
Moulton is now getting in on the latest trend in doll collecting: reborning.
“Reborners” buy inexpensive vinyl dolls and take them apart. They strip the paint. Dismember the limbs. Remove the eyes. Pluck out the hair.
Then, they put them back together again, with an artistic flair. They repaint the skin in more lifelike tones. They weight the bodies so they feel more like real babies. They root hair into the babies’ heads.
“We completely remake or enhance the babies,” says Ally Ice, administrator of the group’s Web site, www.reborners.com. “Our aim is basically to make the most realistic newborn-looking babies we can.”
Reborners often then sell their creations on eBay or other sites.
Many doll artists frown on reborning, saying it destroys their hard work.
But not Moulton. She has crafted a kit just for reborners, consisting simply of unpainted doll parts.
“Oh, she’s adored,” says Ice, 53, who lives in Bridgeport, Ala. “She’s a gifted artist and a fabulous lady.
“She’s a doll.”