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Doll in first lady Joanne Tomblin's image joins collection

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A new artwork is joining the distinguished line of West Virginia first lady ceramic doll creations.

The First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin doll was unveiled during a ceremony Thursday in the Culture Center Great Hall. The doll is the most recent addition to an exhibit of dolls resembling West Virginia's first ladies throughout the years.

The newest doll will eventually be displayed along with others in an enclosed glass case in the Culture Center second floor balcony. From now through the end of March the doll will be on display in the theater gallery on the first floor of the Culture Center.  

The first lady is amazed with the replica of herself created by Washington, D.C., artist Ping Lau.

"It is such a strange feeling to have something created in the likeness of yourself," Joanne Tomblin said. "It is also an honor. It represents history. West Virginia first ladies play an important role when their husbands are governors."

The first lady doll project began in 1976 when Charleston ceramic artist Edna Henderson created 28 first lady dolls for the inauguration of the Culture Center. The West Virginia Federation of Women's Clubs commissioned the project. Henderson died in 1999.

In 2006, Randall Reid-Smith, commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, enlisted Huntington-area elementary art teacher and doll maker Joanne Gelin to create the Gayle Manchin doll and bring the collection up to date. Gelin finished the Manchin doll in 2007 but declined to continue the project.

The missing dolls include former first ladies Sandy Wise, Rachael Worby, and Dee Caperton. Ping has been commissioned to create those dolls to complete the collection.

In 2012 West Virginia Division of Culture and History Museums Director Charles Morris contacted museum and artist groups throughout the state in quest of a new doll maker. Eventually, Ping was recommended by Barbara Stone, doll collector and secretary/treasurer of the United Federation of Doll Clubs.

The first lady met with Lau for the first time last October.

"I met with her in person and she took a lot of photos," the first lady said of the doll artist. "She is soft spoken, pretty, and intelligent. We talked about my likes and dislikes. She captured my personality."

The doll is detailed from sparkling hazel eyes to manicured fingers and toes. She has the first lady's classic smile and is clad in a replica of the gown that was worn to the inaugural ball.

Ping Lau was raised and educated in Singapore. She has no formal art training but graduated with a bachelor of arts in English Literature from the National University of Singapore.

The artist was unable to attend the unveiling of the doll and reception on Thursday afternoon.

The doll was unveiled by the first lady and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

The governor said the 18-inch-tall ceramic doll is the best of the entire collection of first lady dolls. Not that any favoritism is at play...

"It's beautiful," he said. "I think it's the favorite of the whole collection. I've been married almost 34 years."

Those who visit the permanent exhibit of first lady dolls will also see fine china and silver used in the governor's mansion and elegant dresses worn by first ladies throughout the decades. During the early years, the first ladies have serious expressions, the custom in those days for photographs. The more recent dolls are smiling, including the current first lady.

"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, personality and legacies of all of West Virginia's first ladies," Joanne Tomblin said.

In years to come when people look at the doll replica of the current first lady she hopes they see how much she enjoyed her role.

She hopes they say, "Oh, that was Mrs. Tomblin. She looks like such a happy first lady." Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at charlotte@dailymail.com or 304-348-1246.


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