Warning: If you collect Barbie dolls or have a special place in your heart for the perfect 10 plastic babes, you probably should stop reading now.
This is a story of Barbies destined for dismemberment, butch hair cuts, reassembly and rebirth as beings far from their curvy beginnings.
Lawrence artist Mri Pilar calls them Rebarbs. That's "re-" as in "again" and Barb, short for Barbie. It's resurrection with revisions -- drastic ones.
Pilar dreamed up the Rebarb art project during her term as artist-in-residence in the Lucas-Luray school district. She has created several dolls of her own and helped a class of junior high art students in the Russell County community make Rebarbs as a cooperative group project.
Last week, at a "Rebarb party" at Lawrence resident Gayle Sigurdson's home, Pilar introduced the idea to a group of local women. It caught on fast. A dozen women cranked out four wildly creative dolls in the space of a couple hours.
"It takes Barbies totally off that pedestal," Pilar said. "To me, it's just one more object that's gone in the garbage. She's lost that status. This is a resurrection, but it's not with awe."
"Here's a worldwide icon, and we're saying, 'You're just fodder like everything else.'"
Still wondering just how a Rebarb comes together?
It starts with a can of Great Stuff, the insulating foam sealant you may have used to fill cracks in your foundation, or clear caulk, for a more controlled work surface.
At Sigurdson's party, Pilar passes out gloves (a must) and aprons to anyone worried about getting goo on their clothes. After spreading out a piece of paper and squirting on a layer of the fluffy off-white foam, Pilar pulls off the arms and legs of a Barbie she has salvaged from a thrift store, sticks its torso down and covers it with more fluff. She'll re-attach the limbs later.
Then, the race is on. Partygoers, from 11 to 62, begin scavenging through cardboard flats full of colorful plastic toys, faux jewels, feathers, Mardi Gras beads, springs and other random items Pilar has collected from second-hand stores. The trick is to cover the sticky Barbie with as many adornments as possible before the adhesive dries -- that's about a 10-minute window.
"You don't have time to think. It's totally by intuition," Pilar says. "Whatever grabs you, grab. It's that fast."
On the first run, a Barbie with auburn hair is quickly engulfed in a wacky conglomeration of tidbits. A dose of glitter fills in any empty spaces. And voila.
"That's great," Pilar says of the doll. "I think this is wonderful."
As the evening winds on, the dolls become more refined. The next one loses its hair to make room for a feathery headdress and takes on a theme, using a narrower spectrum of colors and similar objects. For the final two dolls, the women and girls split into two groups and do a little advanced planning.
Everyone seems to be caught up in the creative process and having a great time.
"It's fun to be one of the kids now," says 62-year-old Sylvia Scoby, a former school teacher.
Though an individual could create one of these dolls, Pilar's intention is for Rebarbs to be group projects that involve both artists and people who may not think of themselves as being at all artistic.
"Everybody's got Barbies. And everybody's got junk," Pilar said. "You're working in teams. This individual artist thing -- we've taken it as far as we can."
The accessibility element attracted Sigurdson to the dolls.
"Art shouldn't be a spectator sport. This stuff ... it's not intimidating," said Sigurdson, resident services coordinator at Babcock Place, where she organizes rotating art exhibits and takes residents on tours of local artists' studios.
"People forget the actual project in the excitement of it. You see these boundaries falling away."
For Sigurdson's partygoers, the excitement will last beyond one evening. The dolls they created will join ones made by Lucas-Luray junior high school students for a summer exhibition that will hang on the walls of the Deeble House in Lucas, home of the Grassroots Art Center.
"It gives credibility to what's been a really fun night," Sigurdson said.
Eleven-year-old Anna Munzinger summed it up this way: "It's good, slightly sticky fun."