Childhood love, adult outrage drive Barbie jewelry artist

BEACON, N.Y., May 14 (Reuters) - Margaux Lange, 39, proclaimed her lifelong love of Barbie, then yanked off the iconic doll's head and plunged a scalpel into its eyes, carving them out.

What looked like a ritualistic mutilation was actually an artistic maneuver by Lange, a silversmith who said her jewelry made from salvaged Barbie doll parts encased in sterling silver sells for up to $3,000.

"Very few people feel indifferent about her," said Lange, whose sales are driven in part by criticism that the curvaceous doll has created an unrealistic body image for girls and objectified women since it was first introduced in 1959.

"Lots of people love that they can wear a piece of their childhood," Lange said in an interview at her home studio in Beacon, New York, about 60 miles north of New York City. "Others look at Barbie a little more critically and they like seeing her reimagined in this form."

One of Lange's reimaginings is a $220 necklace featuring a Barbie arm with little red coral blood droplets attached by silver chains.

Since Barbie's creation by Mattel Inc toy company co-founder Ruth Handler, the doll's popularity has waxed and waned with a series of transformations meant to broaden her ethnic appeal and smooth out her voluptuous body to look more like most women.

Barbie's 180 careers have included such ground-breaking roles as astronaut (1965), firefighter (1995) and pilot (1999), according to Mattel's website. She even cracked what some see as the toughest U.S. glass ceiling, when the company made a President Barbie doll in 2016.

Her longtime boyfriend Ken, whose buff chest and chiseled face also are encased in silver in Lange's rings, brooches and necklaces, underwent a makeover of his own to bolster sagging sales. Mattel in 2017 offered Ken in a range of body types and skin tones for every ethnicity, with man buns and cornrows.

Lange is always on the lookout for the classic old-time Barbie, with red lips, at garage sales, thrift store and flea markets.

After Mattel contacted her for a Barbie collector's catalog, she made rings displaying Barbie shoes heels and then expanded her creations in the "Plastic Body Series," which she has been crafting for 20 years.

"I fell in love with Barbie as a child," said Lange, a graduate of Maryland Institute College of Art. "I was obsessed with Barbie dolls and playing in and creating her miniature world."

(Writing by Barbara Goldberg in New York Editing by Scott Malone and Susan Thomas)