Every dollmaker likely feels like her work is truly a labor of love. But for California artist Marissa May, the proof is in the final product—her charmingly real newborn baby dolls known as the Nod & Dream collection.
May is a truly remarkable artist, with an amazing ability to capture the purity and soul of a newborn baby. And her passion began at an early age growing up in St. George, Utah.
“I grew up in a family where art was just a normal part of everyday life,” she said. “My mom really encouraged creativity and provided all kinds of materials for my siblings and me to experiment with. I was a very quiet child and often turned to art for comfort. It was a world that I could enter and feel safe to explore.”
Among her fondest memories are times spent creating art of all kinds—and getting lost in herself in the process. “When I was maybe 6 or 7, I found an old wood crate full of cast-off machine parts. I remember sitting down in the dirt and turning the pieces over in my hands, finding ways to fit them together. I don’t know how many hours passed, but I remember when I stood up, dusk had settled in, and I had a whole village made of these little odd characters. It was an exciting feeling to see something tangible made from something insignificant.”
It wasn’t until May was a teenager, however, that she became more serious about art as a possible profession. Dolls just seemed a perfect fit for May. Her sister, Julia May, was a doll artist and introduced her to the world of sculpting.
“I was amazed with what she could do with a block of clay,” said May, a self-taught artist. “It was about a year from that time I started sculpting. Being a new mother, I was looking for a creative career that would allow me to stay at home and be part of my son’s milestones. So Julia and I went from being two little sisters swimming in a sea of paper doll scraps to spending our early adulthood sharing our hopes and fears in each clump of clay and at the same time attending to our real-life babies. The timing was perfect.”
May dabbled in making models of fantasy and miniature realistic newborns before deciding to focus on realism. Several of her OOAK babies are in private collections, but she has not yet made newborns to mass produce. “I work very slowly and finish approximately three to four life-size babies a year…I am meticulous with the detail of each baby.”
May works in a variety of materials, but primarily clay. “My favorite is Cernit; I love the translucency effect of this clay.”
She has also worked in silicone. Eliah was her first limited-edition solid silicone baby, available in both Caucasian and African-American skin tones. “Silicone is a very soft flexible medium, very similar to human skin,” she adds.
That doll was followed by Jack, a limited-edition resin baby. “Resin appealed to me greatly from the first time I was introduced to it. It has a beautiful translucency that is unique to this medium. The composition lends to very good reproductions, the details are picked up in the molds, and the babies look very much like an original piece.”
May turned to her friends and experts in the resin business, Doug and Barbara Lefler of Multiplicity Studios in Pennsylvania, for assistance. “I can hand over the babies and know I am going to receive high-quality work.”
May takes pride in finishing all aspects of the dolls. “With the exception of pouring,” May says, “every aspect of the babies is finished by me.”
May’s babies have full arm and leg sculpts, which are then affixed to a weighted cloth body. Fine-grade mohair is used for the dolls’ hair. “I feel it’s the closest to that of a real-life child.”
While many of May’s babies are seen in blissful slumber, those “awake” versions have crystal glass eyes.
May’s newest resin babies are twins Seraphina and Sam. Only five of each, plus artist’s proofs, will be made, and for the first time, these creations will have detachable resin tummy plates.
Those hoping to recreate May’s charming children can watch for kits coming soon from Bountiful Baby in Salt Lake City, Utah (www.bountifulbaby.com), which issues reborn kits. She previously released vinyl kits of Ruby and Lorenzo from Reborn Doll Kits; both issues have sold out.
“I really enjoy providing the opportunity to others to use their creativity to make these babies come to life. I have a couple of different projects in the works for larger-scale reproductions and it is my hope to be able to offer babies for all collectors in a wide price range,” she says.
Capturing the magic and joy of newborns is a delicate craft, one May has found comes with great rewards. “It is my hope to always have inspiration to offer unique babies to the doll world. It is so rewarding to hear expressions of joy when a baby arrives home.
“This appreciation from collectors multiplies the enthusiasm I feel in spending my days doing something that I love! I think that real newborn babies are magic, and I work hard to capture that in each sculpt that I create.”
Mays’ limited-edition Nod & Dream newborns retail for $1,400 to $1,700. For more information about Marissa May or her creations, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.marissamay.com.