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Associated Press, Published May 25 2013

St. Joseph couple builds real biz on fake babies

ST. JOSEPH, Minn. — Most art is meant to be admired from a few feet away. The art of Daryl and Cindy Lindbloom is best enjoyed snuggled right up to your chest.

Daryl and Cindy Lindbloom of St. Joseph make serenity babies, realistic-looking dolls that are weighted, dressed and even scented like human infants. Their business is called Loving Hearts Nursery, the St. Cloud Times reported (http://on.sctimes.com/13J2zIP).

"Everything is top-quality," said Cindy Lindbloom, who imports all of the doll parts from a German manufacturer. She special-orders natural hair and pays double for stuffing that stays fluffy.

That quality translates into a price tag that is unlikely to make the Loving Hearts dolls staples of a child's Christmas haul.

But even at as much as $750 per doll, the couple isn't making enough to quit their day jobs. They say they do it for the happiness it brings people.

Their primary market is nursing homes, because holding a serenity baby can be therapeutic for Alzheimer's patients and other residents. The Lindblooms say older people like the chance to take care of something again.

With a recent order of 25 serenity babies from nursing homes in Iowa and Wisconsin, Loving Hearts is backed up until August with orders.

"It's all about bringing peace to people and helping them feel better," Cindy Lindbloom said.

The Lindblooms began making serenity babies after one of their neighbors died.

Cindy Lindbloom had frequently helped her neighbor when she lived nearby. Though the woman wanted to pay her, Cindy Lindbloom always refused, saying that's just what people did for each other. When the neighbor died, her niece brought a signed check from her to the Lindblooms' home.

"It took me a year to think, 'How am I going to use this to still bring something for her?' " Cindy Lindbloom said.

They decided to use Viola's gift to start a business: They would make dolls in honor of a woman who never had a doll growing up.

Although their children and grandchildren have been given their creations, Cindy Lindbloom says the work is more art than toy.

Daryl Lindbloom spends 30-40 hours just on painting the skin. He does as many as 10 layers of heat-set paint, adding blush, capillaries and birth marks.

"I try to find a shorter way to do it, and it just keeps getting longer," he said.

Cindy Lindbloom is an admitted perfectionist. She is responsible for adding hair and stuffing the serenity babies. Sometimes, she'll take them apart and start over multiple times before she's satisfied. She once had Daryl Lindbloom re-do an entire doll.

"They have to be as if I would want them," Cindy Lindbloom said.

The last and most important part, the couple says, is the love. Clients have told them there's something different about their dolls over the other ones they've seen, and they insist it's the love.

Part of that comes from their 27-year-old son, Brad. He helps his parents as he can, though dexterity issues keep him from helping add hair.

The dolls are built to last, with hair rooted in and reinforced with water-proof glue. The limbs are tied on tightly, and the heat-set paint won't fade or rub off.

If a client does manage to damage the doll, the Lindblooms will repair it.

"They're made to be used, not to just sit there," Cindy Lindbloom said. "I want to know they're being used and doing their job."

Cindy Lindbloom doesn't like the word "doll" to describe their creations, even though Daryl Lindbloom uses it.

"Everyone can relate to a baby, and the comfort babies bring," she said.

Indeed, when the couple takes the serenity babies out in public, everyone they encounter thinks they're real.

All kinds of people want to hold them and take pictures — even though a few say they're "creepy."

The dolls do look and feel like real babies. Their heads need support to stay upright, and their limbs move like a young infant's do as you shift them in your arms.

It's the little touches that make them look real.

The babies come with pacifiers, clothes, a hair comb and other baby accessories. Each has an inscription of the company name and the year they're made on the rear.

A baby is "born" when all the finishing touches are added, including the signature. On request, the Lindblooms provide a birth certificate.

So far, Loving Hearts has made about 40 dolls. A few have been custom orders, but most have gone to nursing homes, which is what the couple likes the most.

They are keeping work steady and seeing where it takes them. They've received requests from as far away as England, but thus far the idea hasn't caught on in St. Cloud-area nursing homes.

"Central Minnesota is really hard with anything new," Cindy Lindbloom said. "That's OK. We look at it as educating about this new art form."

To the Lindblooms, unpainted vinyl limbs and stuffed cloth bodies are a blank canvas. Though they are meant to be cuddled, the two maintain that what they make is art.

"It's just a little more snuggly," Daryl Lindbloom said.

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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.