CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Division of Culture and History and Gat Caperton, son of former First Lady Dee Caperton and Governor Gaston Caperton, will unveil the newest commemorative doll in the First Ladies of West Virginia collection in a ceremony at the Culture Center, State Capitol Complex in Charleston, on Friday, June 24, at 10 a.m. The Dee Caperton doll was hand-sculpted by Washington D.C.-based artist Ping Lau, who also designed the doll of First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin, and features Caperton in her Inaugural Ball gown.
“From Ripley to Charleston and beyond, Dee always brought a smile and a little extra glamour to everything she did,” said Gat Caperton. “She was beautiful in many ways. Having a doll standing proudly amongst the other West Virginia First Ladies is a tribute she would have loved.” Dee Caperton died in France in 2000 at age 57.
The West Virginia Federation of Women’s Clubs initially commissioned the first ladies doll collection in 1976, the same year the Culture Center opened. Edna Henderson, a Charleston-based ceramic artist, created 29 first lady dolls, from Laurane Boreman to Sharon Rockefeller, before she died in 1999. This permanent exhibit was installed in the Culture Center balcony, where it remains.
In 2006, WVDCH Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith enlisted elementary art teacher and doll maker Joanne Gelin to create the Gayle Manchin doll with hopes to bring the exhibit up to date, but after completing the Manchin doll, she declined to finish the project.
After a thorough search by Director of Museums Charles Morris with help from Commissioner Reid-Smith, Lau was commissioned in 2013 to fashion the doll of current First Lady Joanne Jaeger Tomblin. She will continue the project of creating dolls for past first ladies that are still yet to have dolls created for them. She works meticulously with drawings and photographs and pays close attention to detail as she completes the dolls and gowns.
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. Her meticulously detailed, expressive, one-of-a-kind dolls 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.
After the ceremony, the First Lady Dee Caperton doll will be added to the permanent exhibit on the south side of the balcony gallery on the second floor of the Culture Center.
For more information about the first lady doll collection contact Charles Morris, director of museums, at 304-558-0220 or Charles.W.Morris@wv.gov.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History is an agency within the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts with Kay Goodwin, Cabinet Secretary. The division, led by Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith, brings together the past, present and future through programs and services focusing on archives and history, arts, historic preservation and museums. For more information about the division’s programs, events and sites, visit www.wvculture.org. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.