Everyone loves babies, but Andrea Arcello really loves babies. "I'm fascinated by their unguarded demeanors," she says. "I've always wanted to re-create them." In junior high, she sketched highly realistic drawings of infants and toddlers; in high school and college, she switched to clay sculptures. In 2004 Arcello (then working in stained-glass repair) was inspired to make the most of her talents after watching an Oprah episode about helping South African orphans, and began designing startlingly lifelike dolls.
Photo: From the Personal Collection of Oprah Winfrey
Out of the Whitehall, Michigan, home she shares with her husband, Arcello crafts one-of-a-kind "portrait dolls"—modeled on actual kids or adults' baby pictures—as well as original limited editions (from $1,700; see them at Andrea-Arcello.com). The meticulous process takes two months, from sculpting the clay with special attention to expressive textures (crinkled foreheads, creased eyelids, pursed lips) to adding the final flourishes (needling in fine mohair wisps, manicuring nails).
Photo: Courtesy of Andrea Arcello
Last year, with business thriving (she has clients as far away as Australia), Arcello worked from photos to create the 12-pound, 30-inch Little Oprah, a thank-you present for the woman who inspired her doll-making venture. When she landed a ticket to Oprah last fall, Arcello offered the uncanny gift—dressed in celadon green, Oprah's favorite color—in person after the taping. "There isn't much that shocks me anymore," Oprah told her, "but this shocks me."
Photo: Harpo Inc./George Burns
Arcello was stunned as well. "I was too overwhelmed to respond fully," she says, "but I'll remember that day forever."
"As a longtime doll collector, I thought this was one of the best I've ever seen," Oprah said. "She could be mistaken for the real thing. It was like my inner child come to life."
Next: What Oprah knows for sure about giving