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Miss Ingenuity
Written by Stephanie Finnegan   
Saturday, 01 August 2009 00:00

karibyron_1

Kari Byron is the typical girl-next-door; that is, if the girl-next-door can detonate a bomb, swim with a shark and good-naturedly pal around with a frat house of techno-savvy dudes. The Californian native is the cheerful and remarkably competent host of the Discovery Channel’s MythBusters series. True to the show’s title, Byron’s presence with her four male counterparts busts all the myths about females being afraid of things that go bump in the night. With gusto and loads of charm, Byron throws herself into the weekly challenges of scientifically proving whether a well-known truism is indeed fact or fiction.

As the program’s resident “hottie,” but with a brain, she’s often been asked to unravel myths that are a little raunchy or racy in tone. She undertakes her tasks with a smile, a wink and a knowing attitude of “boys will be boys.”

For Generations X and Y, she is Lara Croft with a Craftsman tool belt. Down to earth and approachable, Byron knows that she is lucky to be the “it” girl for MIT graduates and other sci-fi geeks.

“I have a B.A. degree from San Francisco State University in film. After graduating, I was trying to figure out a way to be a 3-D artist and still make a living. Special effects seemed like a perfect transition. I weaseled an internship at M5 Industries, and as it turned out, my first day as an intern was the first day MythBusters started filming out of the shop. It was the right time and right place. Somehow I just ended up in front of the camera!”

During her childhood, Byron describes herself as “painfully shy.” She never imagined that she would have a career on television. She was always more comfortable living in her fantasies and imagination. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t making drawings, sculptures and dolls. I assembled skulls out of my Cheerios box with tape and would sew dolls from my mom’s old pantyhose.”

karibyron_2Such resourcefulness would serve Byron well decades later as she tackled her on-air assignments, but it also has helped her as she challenges herself as an artist and a figural-art sculptor. “I took art classes in high school and college, but all my sculpting was self-taught. This may have put me at a disadvantage for [achieving] true realism, but I think it allowed me to develop my own style.”

Byron is drawn to dollmaking, but she creates her characters with a unique eye, cutting-edge materials and avant-garde styles. “My dolls are an artistic adventure. I wouldn’t call myself a professional dollmaker. Myth­Busters takes most of my time. Though I have sold and shown the dolls, I mostly make them for myself these days. Sculpting is how I relax,” she reveals.

After a day of strategizing a miles-per-hour ratio and then skydiving—those are the quandaries that she and her team could be facing—she loves the chance to be at peace with her thoughts and her talents. “I make my dolls according to what is occupying my mind at the time. Sometimes I just make them to amuse myself, but I don’t have an outward message,” she says. “Most of my sculptures are portraits. My main sources for models are photos from my travels, homeless people and mug shots I find online. Criminals have more interesting faces; pretty people are boring to sculpt. I like disfigurement, wrinkles and asymmetry in a face. I look for faces with a story.”

Married to fellow artist Paul Urich, Byron and her husband are starting a family. At press time, DOLLS learned that Byron is pregnant, and “can’t wait to meet her little baby!” If she is lucky enough to have a little girl, she intends to introduce her to the marvels of dolls. As a young’un herself, she was inseparable from her own doll companion. “I had a bean doll named ‘JuJu’ that I carried everywhere with me. Apparently, a JuJu is a blessed voodoo doll that is said to keep evil and negativity at bay. At 2 years old, I am sure that I didn’t know that, but I still think it is a cool idea.”

karibyron_3Turning everyday expectations upside down is what Kari Byron does best. And she credits her supportive family with giving her the independence and the confidence to navigate her own way. “There is an embarrassing amount of my work around the family home,” she jokes. “I have nothing to really attribute my creative drive to. My family is so normal that I almost felt out of place among my dark, artsy college friends. I have no good reason to have any angst or gothic aesthetics. My parents are still happily married, and my sister and I are best friends.”

One relative who did coax her into the direction of doll collecting was her great aunt Elizabeth, known as Aunt Betty. “She is an avid doll collector, and her house is stacked to the roof with antique dolls. I spent summers at her house in Oregon. She is a huge influence on me. I used to love watching her repair and collect dolls. I am sure she is the reason I am so enamored with doll-sized sculptures.”

As she continues to unravel urban legends and pop-culture fallacies, Byron manages to segregate precious hours for her creating. The next time she gets downtime from her shooting schedule, just what would she like to sculpt in doll form? She ponders a moment and then succinctly states, “Zombies.” There she goes again … busting all the rules.

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