First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin today unveiled the newest commemorative doll in the First Ladies of West Virginia doll collection during a reception at the Culture Center in Charleston. The First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin doll was hand-sculpted by Washington, D.C.-based artist Ping Lau and features First Lady Tomblin in her Inaugural Ball gown.
“I have greatly enjoyed working with Ping and the Division of Culture and History to make my doll come to life, and I look forward to working with them in the future to feature our other first ladies who have not yet had dolls created for them,” First Lady Tomblin said. “I believe all our first ladies should be remembered with the dignity and respect they deserve, and it is my hope that this doll and the dolls to come will help preserve the images, personalities and legacies of all of West Virginia’s first ladies.”
The first lady doll project began in 1976, when Charleston ceramic artist Edna Henderson created twenty-eight first lady dolls for the inauguration of the Culture Center in Charleston. The dolls and the project itself were commissioned by the West Virginia Federation of Women’s Clubs. A permanent exhibit was installed in the Culture Center balcony, where it remains to this day. This unique exhibit examines the evolving role of West Virginia’s first ladies and features the popular ceramic doll collection. The display also includes fine china and silver used in the Governor’s Mansion, as well as elegant dresses worn by former first ladies.
In 2006, Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith enlisted elementary art teacher and doll maker of fifteen years Joanne Gelin to create the Gayle Manchin doll and bring the First Ladies of West Virginia exhibit up to date. Gelin finished the Gayle Manchin doll in early 2007 but later declined to continue the project.
In 2012 West Virginia Division of Culture and History Museums Director Charles Morris, with guidance from Commissioner Reid-Smith, contacted museum and artist groups throughout West Virginia in hopes of finding a doll maker who could continue this worthwhile project. After a long search, Charles found a contact by the name of Dr. Barbara Stone, a lifelong doll collector and secretary/treasurer of the United Federation of Doll Clubs, who then recommended doll artist Ping Lau for the project. After seeing examples of her work, Charles and Commissioner Reid-Smith set up a meeting between Lau and First Lady Tomblin. The first lady met with Lau for the first time in October 2013. The moment she saw Lau’s work in person, the first lady knew she was the one.
Ping Lau was raised and educated in Singapore. She has had no formal art training but graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the National University of Singapore. Her meticulously detailed, expressive and one-of-a-kind dolls have received and continue to receive tremendous response and recognition whenever they are shown, and many of them have actually been mistaken for real children. Lau’s dolls, paintings and other creations have been displayed at local and national art galleries and art shows, and have also been featured on the Home Shopping Network.
The First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin doll will be on display in the theatre gallery on the first floor of the Culture Center until March 31, 2014. After that date, it will be added to the permanent First Ladies of West Virginia exhibit on the south side of the second floor balcony.