It’s early Sunday morning at Pointe of Hope Church in Blue Springs.
Jo Ballew is sitting outside of the sanctuary cuddling what appears to be a newborn baby.
Much to the horror of some stunned onlookers, she puts the newborn on her knee and starts to casually bounce the baby back and forth.
Seconds later, she reveals that the “baby” is actually one of her lifelike Lil Sugars by Jo reborn creations that have been turning heads and winning the hearts of their owners for the past four years.
“May I hold it – I mean, that is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” said Ronni Goche, who had to pick up the reborn creation and feel its tiny hands and feet before she would believe that it was a doll. “I’ve seen a lot of dolls in my life, but never one like this.
“Jo is going to have to be careful where she takes them, because people would be calling the police if she left one in her hot car – they are that realistic.”
Ballew grins. That’s not the first time she has heard that comment.
“Oh, I make sure to cover one up if I have to travel somewhere and leave it in a car,” she said. “Or, like the reaction we had this morning. I have to carry them like a real baby or people will wonder what is going on with that woman who is carrying the baby the wrong way.”
Reborns is headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, and artists throughout the U.S. and in several other countries use reborn templates for their own creations.
Through the magic of acrylic paint, the painstaking application of one single hair or eyebrow at a time, and tons of love, Ballew has become one of the country’s premier reborn baby artists.
Her dolls come with a name, which the owner can change if they so please, a birth certificate, pacifier and full outfit.
“I feel like I turn a doll into a baby that someone is going to love for a long, long time,” she said, as she cuddled her reborn creation for a group of wide-eyed youngsters.
The head and hands are made of plastic, while the body is made of a suede material that is filled with a gel that allows the baby to actually “cuddle” its new owner.
The head is filled with tiny glass beads that allow it to move from side to side, just like a real baby, and the hands, feet and head are not complete until she has used up to 14 layers of paint to create the lifelike newborn, um, reborn, baby.
“For the babies with real hair, I place one piece of hair at a time – for the hair on the head and the eyebrows,” she explained. “And I’ll use a material to make their eyes and lips glossy, just like a real baby.”
When she was a child, Ballew had a doll collection that featured popular Barbie dolls.
“And my mother had a porcelain doll collection, but nothing like the dolls I like to create,” she said. “People always ask me who buys my dolls – and I just say ‘Everyone.’ They are popular with young children, and everyone wants to hold them and cuddle them at nursing homes.
“I think the cuddle factor is so important – that’s why I make sure that everyone one of my reborns is perfect – right down to its clothes and birth certificate.”
Ballew works in the commissary at Richards-Gebaur Air Reserve Station in Kansas City, and tries to spend at least two to three hours a day creating her reborn children.
She said she has sold hundreds of reborns, across the United States and as far away as Australia, Brazil, China and Italy.
“Sometimes, when I finish with a little reborn it’s tough to let it go,” she admitted. “But as long as I know it’s going to a loving home, I’m happy.”
You can see more of her work at Lil Sugar’s By Jo on Facebook and YouTube.