Sarah Hensley: An Interview With The Woman Who Creates Zarbies

In September, we drove down to Mocksville to attend the Davie County Zombie Parade & Monster Fest . In addition to the parade, there we...

In September, we drove down to Mocksville to attend the Davie County Zombie Parade & Monster Fest. In addition to the parade, there were vendors set up at the festival, selling their wares. We were drawn to Sarah Hensley and her Zarbies. She takes old Ken and Barbie dolls and turns them into zombies. We had to know more, so we spoke with Ms. Hensley about how she got started, what people think of her dolls, her inspiration, the Zarbie creation process, and more!

How did you get started making your Zarbies?
Zarbies started when my soul sister and hetero life partner, Kendra Parker, and I were too broke for Christmas. She wanted to make her daughter a zombie Pocahontas. I asked my mom to send me any old Kens she could find in her attic. I had this great idea to turn my old Ken dolls into my son's favorite horror movie icons and I made Murder Dolls (as my son calls them).

Image courtesy of Sarah Hensley
He loved it! Kids don't usually dig on homemade presents but he shows them off and it makes my heart swell. I guess it was three Christmases ago.

How has the reaction been to them?
The reaction has been quite positive! I haven't made children cry yet! I have another buddy, Liz Winter, and she's really gotten into making the dolls look crazy. I've sorta passed the torch onto her. I work on a lot of commissioned paintings and clothes and other stuff art-related. Liz just wants to do dolls 24-7. We set up our tables on Trade Street, in downtown Winston-Salem every Sunday in May and October, The Arts District throws Arts On Sundays events. I don't think anyone passes our tables without stopping to touch the dolls!

Where do you find your inspiration?
Inspiration is EVERYWHERE, especially now that zombies seem to be in fashion. Weird, huh? We do custom dolls, too, so sometimes people want dolls that resemble them or other popular icons.

Where do you get your dolls?
Most dolls come from Goodwill, yard sales, and donations! Actually, I should have put donations first in that line, because often when people see the dolls, they remember all the unused dolls in their attics and garages and they bring them to us by the boxload! I'm hooking up with a woman I met at that Davie County Zombie Parade & Monster Fest and she's bringing a big ole box of dolls and doll parts sometime next week! I just love that people wanna give us their old Barbies. I don't believe they care that we're "destroying" the dolls, rather they like that we transform something forgotten and unloved into a work of art.

Describe the process of creating one of your Zarbies.
OK! The process! I wrap their hair up with masking tape, it's the easiest tape to come back off. Then I spray paint them head to toe. Some of the newer Barbies have silicone-based legs and faces, and the spray paint can make those parts sticky and gross, so I've been playing with other ways to get the green or grey base color. After the paint, I slice and dice with a Dremel tool, usually a cutting wheel or sanding disk. That part is most satisfying! I've always disliked the ridiculous standards Barbie sets for young girls, those perfect figures and delicate features. There's nothing like hacking those standards and wrecking their features!

I like to make my Dremel cuts deliberate, but my buddy, Liz, just sorta goes crazy with the Dremel, so it looks like Barbie had a dream date in the wood chipper. The cutting wheel gets pretty hot after awhile, and the plastic starts melting, giving the cuts a real meaty look! I like painting the cuts different shades of red and brown. I highlight features with lighter greens, add shadow and depth with black paint, and I drizzle E-6000, my most favorite glue ever, to get a stringy effect that I can paint later. It almost looks like melting, rotting flesh! I looooove it. I've since taught Liz how to do their little faces. She's got Zarbie fever and wants to do them all day long. She used to bring me 20 at a time to detail, but she's really gotten the hang of it here lately. Oh! We make them glow in the dark, too!

One our favorites was the doll with tons of other dolls' eyes, mouths, arms, etc. How many dolls were used to create that one doll?
That crazy doll with all the eyes and stuff is the brainchild of my buddy, Liz. The concept came from my lotus piece.

A photo posted by Sarah Hensley (@sarahhensleyart) on

I'd wanted to do different stuff with the Barbies. They were piling up at this point, and after a couple years of zombies and zombies and more zombies, well, I kinda got sick of em! I started peeling their faces apart to use the individual features in different ways. We ended up with all these little bitty pieces of face, and Liz started applying them to that crazy doll! That thing probably took a month to complete, but it's pretty dang awesome to behold. Liz may be insane, but we love her, and she keeps life interesting!

In addition to Zarbies, what else do you create?
I create all sorts of stuff! I repurpose Goodwill prom dresses for Halloween or zombie prom events. I paint a LOT.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Hensley
I used to be a surgical technologist, but a spinal fusion operation knocked me out of the "real job" work force. Art is what kept me from spiraling into a pit of self-loathing and despair. Art keeps me sane and makes me happy and pays my bills now!

Photo courtesy of Sarah Hensley
I make jewelry and I volunteer in an awesome gallery in downtown Winston-Salem. It's called the Red Dog Gallery and is affiliated with the most wonderful group of artists and supporters of the arts, Art For Art's Sake. Since I hooked up with them, I've made fascinating and diversely talented connections.

Image courtesy of Sarah Hensley
Right now, I'm working on skull pendants made from spoons.

Image courtesy of Sarah Hensley
You can always check out my art page on Facebook and I'm on Instagram too.

Fill in the blank: I hope my Zarbies become so popular that I ____________.
I hope our Zarbies get so popular that everyone wants one and I can afford to move out of this crappy apartment and onto my own private island (where the zombie apocalypse can't reach my golden sun-bathing ass!) and everyone lives happily ever after.

You can view and purchase Sarah's art through her Facebook and Instagram pages.


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Strange Carolinas is the Travelogue Of The Offbeat, a wry look at the interesting, unique, and offbeat roadside attractions, people, music, art, food, and festivals in North and South Carolina.


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