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Kristy Leigh Walker Makes Realistic Baby Dolls With Down Syndrome

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After American Girl featured a 4-year-old model with Down syndrome in its October catalog, a petition asking the popular doll company to make a doll with Down syndrome resurfaced online. Though parents have been advocating for an American Girl doll with Down syndrome for years, the company said repeatedly it just wasn’t the right time.

“When I asked them at the beginning of 2019 why they weren’t interested in making a doll with Down syndrome, they responded with, ‘We wouldn’t be able to accurately represent that population and do not want to offend anyone,’” Lindsay Robertson, mom and vice president/treasurer of Save Down Syndrome, told The Mighty, adding:

They’ve given this same response to dozens of parents asking the same question. Our answer? They won’t. There are tons of families and little kids who are willing to model for American Girl so they can get the features and qualities correct. There are tons of parents who are willing to provide feedback on these products as well. All they have to do is ask.

But at least one doll maker disagrees with American Girl’s position — Kristy Leigh Walker, a master doll maker who has been creating lifelike dolls with Down syndrome for more than five years. If a company like American Girl followed her lead, Walker told The Mighty, beautiful dolls with Down syndrome could be provided to thousands of people around the world.

The Mighty wanted to learn more about Walker’s dolls, including how you can get one, so we reached out to her.

Here’s what Walker told us about her dolls:

Editor’s note: Text has been lightly edited and condensed for content and clarity.

Why Do You Make Baby Dolls?

I have been making dolls for 12 years now and started making baby dolls with Down Syndrome about five years ago. There are currently three sculpts that I make with Down Syndrome and hope to have more in the future. There has been a great demand for them as I hear from many parents of children with Down syndrome who are striving to find dolls to resemble their children. My babies look and feel like real babies so the clientele are those seeking more of a custom doll. I can create any skin tone, hair color and eye color desired to customize them. I can even add distinctive birthmarks.

I get asked a lot about what these dolls are purchased for. Many are purchased by doll collectors, but I also have a lot of curious first-time-buyers. I sell a lot to parents purchasing for their little girls to have the ultimate baby doll. I sell a lot for therapy for the loss of a child, mental and physical disabilities, anxiety and depression, Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients, etc. I have sold them for use in plays, movies, medical demonstrations for teaching and training purposes, training for photographers, displaying in medical and baby equipment, children’s boutiques for displaying clothing and hair accessories, court cases, etc. Whatever the reason, I am happy that they can bring happiness, therapy, closure, enjoyment, etc., to whoever purchases them.

How Are the Dolls Made?

The baby dolls are made out of a soft-touch vinyl material, some are even mixed with silicone.  They are hand-painted with layers and layers of heat-set paint. I create overtones and undertones to create depth, skin texture and mottling, veins and capillaries, nail tips, 3D-painted eyebrows, and even tiny scratches and birthmarks can be added for extra features.

The hair is hand-rooted tiny strands at a time with a tiny needle to give the appearance of it growing right from tiny follicles in the scalp. They are weighted to the weight of a real baby, so not only do they look real, but they feel real too! You will feel just like you are holding a real baby. The majority of the dolls wear real baby clothes that can be purchased at any baby store.  Some of my tiny preemies will require clothing to be purchased from online stores that specialize in preemie clothing.

How Much Do the Dolls Cost?

My baby dolls range in price from $650-$1,000. The look-alike baby dolls created from baby photos range in price and can exceed $1,000. I ship throughout the United States and Canada.  I take payments through PayPal only unless you are a local customer. I offer a three-month payment plan on most dolls. The baby dolls are all created differently and “one-of-a-kind,” so prices do vary depending on the sculpt, details, extra features, hair and eye grade, custom clothing, etc. Because they are one of a kind, I do not have catalogs.

I currently only have three Down Syndrome baby doll sculpts available, so creating look-alike dolls for babies who have Down Syndrome will not be possible unless they are a close match to the sculpts that I have on hand. Hair, skin and eye color can be customized. I am hopeful there will be more choices in the future.

My baby dolls are hand-painted one at a time with 3D painting techniques to create the realism as well as hand-rooted hair tiny strands at a time. The prices do reflect the work involved in creating each one. This is why a mass-produced version that can be achieved through a major doll company such as American Girl Dolls is desired so prices would be more affordable to all.

How Can You Buy a Doll?

I post exclusively on my Facebook page instead of a website so I can reach everyone waiting for dolls through notifications. Please make sure that if you like my page you allow that feature on my site to get all my notifications so you won’t miss any important postings for orders and dolls for sale. Most of the babies sell within a few minutes of posting.

Due to the fact that I have so many people on the page, and new ones joining every day, I am unable to send private individual messages as to when new babies are posted and when I have orders available. I get asked so often, but it would be impossible to keep up with a current, ever-changing list and Facebook does not give the option for group messages. I post everything to my Facebook page and try my best to reach all that are waiting.

For more information, Kristy Leigh Walker/Kristy Leigh Dolls on Facebook

Header image via Kristy Leigh Walker

Originally published: November 8, 2019
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