Victoria Jane Perry’s hobby-turned-profession is one that’s sure to turn a few heads.
The silicone baby sculptor’s creations are so lifelike — down to their fingers, toes, wrinkles, weight, measurements, anatomy, hair and fingernails — that viewing one from just a few feet away will make an untrained viewer do a double take.
The Columbus woman’s craftsmanship is so refined, in fact, that she freely admits that some people are uncomfortable with the final outcome. Holding a silicone baby, one would almost believe they are holding a real sleeping infant. From the touch to the texture, it’s nearly spot on.
“The word is creepy,” she said of some people’s reactions. “In the beginning when I first started to do it I got made fun of and was told that I would never make any money doing this and that nobody was ever going to buy them … They (people) are really taken aback that there really is a market for these, there are people that buy these, it’s crazy.
“So when someone says that this is just kind of creepy, I tell them thank you, because that tells me that I’m doing a good job, that I’m doing OK."
Over the course of the past few years, Perry, owner of The Nail Shack in Columbus, has learned that others believe she is doing a pretty good job, too. In 2018, she sold 19 babies and is on pace this year to pass that mark. In late June, Perry and another silicone baby sculptor from Alabama attended the International Doll & Teddy Show in Orlando, Florida, where she won the intermediate division of the competition, producing a better silicone baby than other competitors from around the United States and abroad.
In August 2018, Perry attended a function in Wichita, Kansas, where silicone creations were on display and she was able to gauge where her artistic skills were at the time.
“I didn’t enter anything; I kind of needed to feel it out,” Perry said. “I had never held anyone else’s silicone babies, so I kind of needed to sum up the competition to see if I was right in there, or if my babies didn’t look very good, or maybe see that they were great. And I was pleasantly surprised that I was right up in there … I learned that I’m definitely a lot pickier than some of the other artists.”
Perry’s passion for creating silicone babies stemmed from her now 12-year-old daughter, Callei, learning that silicone babies were an actual thing and wanting to have one for herself. Perry and her husband, Todd, figured that it could make a fun Christmas gift for the then-8-year-old, went on eBay and made the purchase. But the couple ended up getting scammed and never received the package.
“Of course, Callei was very hurt, she really wanted that baby – any silicone baby, she didn’t care which one – so I told her, you know what, I’ll make you one,” the mother of four said. “And she looked at me and told me I couldn’t do it. … Challenge accepted.”
And so the research began. For seven or eight months, Perry absorbed any information she could relating to the silicone creations: reading, watching videos, you name it. Then, she dove right in and started sculpting, right after she made the trek to Hobby Lobby to invest in some clay to shape with her hands.
Perry starts her creative process by drawing out what she wants her creation to look like on a piece of paper. Design requires precise measurements and mathematics to ensure that all of her babies are proportional to an actual infant. Her creations depict infants anywhere from 12 inches and 2 pounds, all the way to 18 inches and 6 pounds.
“Proportions are key, otherwise the baby just won’t look right,” she said.
Then, the paper drawing turns into the clay creation that is baked, sanded and molded.
“Molding is a silicone that goes over the figurine, and it’s to make sure that you keep the shape of the clay sculpture,” Perry said. “Then you have to take the clay out of the silicone, which can be a process, and that leaves you with the shell of your product that you can pour your silicone into.”
Each mold typically can be used – filled with the silicone substance - five to seven times before a new one must be created, she added. Getting the clay separated from the mold can be quite the operation, taking upward of an hour and a half oftentimes. Sometimes, Perry recruits the help of Todd to make the process a little easier.
“It’s always a little scary helping because you don’t want to be the guy who messes anything up,” Todd said.
Once the silicone baby is formed, the more technical steps take place. Like contouring and shading, adding fingernails and hand-sewing in each individual strand of hair and eyelashes. The body of the creation is then matted with a wet silicone mixture.
“It makes them silky soft so that they aren’t sticky,” she said of the matting. “It makes them have that skin feel — that they are baby soft.”
Material costs for each project are around $500, and the dolls sell anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500. Even at that dollar amount, Perry noted, she likely will never be completely compensated for all of the hours she puts into each project — about 80 hours per baby.
While Perry's passion for creating silicone babies monopolizes a lot of her time, Todd said, he’s thankful she found something she enjoys doing so much.
“I thought it was just really cool because she never really had a hobby, and she just got really into this and turned out to be this great artist,” her husband said. “She’d never really painted or drawn or even read that much; she was just always being a mom. So this was really the first time she delved into a real hobby, and it ended up being something that she really enjoys."
What is the customer base?
While the phenomenon of a silicone baby may be foreign to many, Perry learned quickly that there is a market for her creations. Across the country, parents who cannot have children themselves make the investment, along with couples or individuals who experienced the death of an infant or young child. In addition, they are a big hit with seniors and memory care patients, Perry said.
“A lot of these types of babies are used in nursing homes to help with Alzheimer’s patients,” she said. "They are also used with rheumatoid arthritis patients and even for those who need some sort of emotional attachment. A lot of ones that buy them, too, either can’t have children or have lost children."
Perry noted that silicone babies are becoming a huge hit with elderly populations in one particular southwestern state.
“There are a lot of these in Arizona,” she said. “The elderly population in Arizona is taking this full force. They take them out, they take them shopping, they have little groups where they get together and call them baby showers where they buy gifts and do all sorts of things. They have really just made it their own social hour."
While the idea of essentially playing parent to something that isn’t a living human may seem strange to some, Perry said that she intends her creations to be cherished and loved.
“My customers, my mommies, I want them to hold them. If you want to bathe them, bathe them, if you want to dress it every day, dress it every day,” she said. “If you are going to pay $2,000 for a baby, it is yours. You do with it what you want. Go ahead and treat it like a real baby.”