Bringing dolls to life: Julia Fairchild’s Reborn Baby Gallery

They look and feel just like real newborns, from their soft eyelashes to the imperfections on their skin.

But the babies that come out of the Fairchild Reborn Baby Gallery are works of art, with hundreds of hours put into their creation.

“I can’t tell you why they are so popular,” owner and artist Julia Fairchild said. “Some people see them and just back off. But others come up to me and love them, including men.”

Fairchild first moved to Orcas in 1983, after finishing a five-year cruise around the Caribbean and Costa Rica with her two young children. She moved to California and came back to Orcas several times, finally retiring in 2005. She started her business that same year, because she wanted to do something that wouldn’t be hard on her back, and creating one-of-a-kind dolls seemed like a logical choice.

“I had an antique gallery in Ojai, Calif., where I restored antique dolls. So it was right up my alley,” she said.

Fairchild is completely self-taught, and says it was a process of trial and error. She tried many different blends of color and layers of skin until she got the “translucent look” just right.

Her dolls range from preemies to one month old. The bodies are weighted with glass granules; fiberfill is added to make them feel more real. They weigh as much as a real child would – the heaviest doll she’s made was eight pounds and 22 inches long. The bodies have eight layers of skin with veins at the temple, hands, wrists, and feet visible. Everything down to the white tips on the babies’ fingernails and their mohair eyelashes is made to look as life-like as possible.

One doll takes two weeks of work and Fairchild puts in about 12 hours a day. Sewing in each strand of mohair to create a head of hair takes 80 hours. Every baby comes with a birth certificate, hand-made blankets, toys, and two sets of clothes.

Fairchild says there isn’t a stereotype for who buys her dolls, which she sells on eBay and at Aesthetica in Eastsound, where they range in price from $600 to $1400. Some customers want her to replicate exactly what their children looked like as babies. One client owns 30 of Fairchild’s designs.

“More and more women are wanting ones that look just two hours old,” she said.

Fairchild’s favorite part of the process is seeing her creations come alive.

“When they walk out with a client, I cry. And I’m not usually like that,” she said. “I don’t talk to the dolls or anything like that, but there is an emotional attachment. And people really love them. I like it when customers get excited.”