Long Beach Island — In the years since Superstorm Sandy, which wiped out many older homes and garages full of storage, the value (sentimentally, at least) of LBI memorabilia, collectibles and assorted treasures from the past seems to have increased. When a couple of vintage 1980s Barney Dolls surfaced recently, we tracked down the man behind the doll, illustrator Bob Sebbo. The small fabric dolls were cartoon-ish representations of Ol’ Barney the Lighthouse – simply constructed souvenirs sold on the Island.
Sebbo, now 73, a retired school custodian and freelance commercial illustrator, lives in the tiny town of Woodruff, Wisc. During the ’80s he lived and worked on Long Beach Island as art director for The Beachcomber. His love of art has always kept him busy with freelance illustration work. As a young man he had tried some classes at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art and the Kansas City Art Institute, but “I don’t have the discipline for school,” he said.
The Barney dolls were a stroke of inspiration or “an act of creative desperation,” he joked. “It actually worked for one season.” He believes the year was 1982.
He borrowed a few hundred dollars in startup capital from his father-in-law and enlisted his wife-at-the-time and brother to manufacture, i.e. sew and stuff the dolls, which were sold at 10 Island retailers: Andy’s at the Light, Fantasia, Jolly Roger at Holgate, Haymarket, The Islander, Jane Law’s Art Studio, Ron Jon Surf Shop, Seawinds, A Summer Place and Wildflowers.
By the end of that summer, “we had sold out, paid back my father-in-law, and had some profit,” he recalled.
But “it was such a tedious chore, to make them by hand,” he said, “I’m sure we only made a few dozen.”
Carole Bradshaw of Ship Bottom has saved and preserved one of the dolls. She’s pretty sure she bought it at a yard sale for a couple of bucks. “Cute” is how her husband, Greg, summed up the doll, whose only function is to sit on a shelf and look – Greg’s right – cute.
Nowadays Sebbo still makes art at home and is learning to use PhotoShop to manipulate his images, but his first love is always drawing. “It’s me. It’s me that comes out of that pencil,” he said.
— Victoria Ford