The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Fashion Doll Exhibit At Crab Orchard Museum

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1986

Issue: May, 1986

AT home costume, circa 1770. Roses, flowers and leaves of hand worked ribbon decorate lilac taffeta. Cap of cream lace with multi-colored ribbon flowers.AT home costume, circa 1770. Roses, flowers and leaves of hand worked ribbon decorate lilac taffeta. Cap of cream lace with multi-colored ribbon flowers.When is a doll not a plaything? When it is a fashion doll. At one time, fashion dolls were made in France and shipped to America with a wardrobe trunk of clothing made in the latest styles. They were perfect scaled-down copies of the originals. Seamstresses in America copied the styles faithfully.

The art of fashion dolls may have played out with the mass production of reliable paper dress patterns, but it has seen a recent revival in the form of Pete Ballard's work. He has created 36 dolls, 40" tall, authentically dressed in costumes from circa 1760 through 1930 time period.

It all began with a lot of scrap lace and remnants of very old clothing. Pete knew it was much to valuable to throw out, but unusable as they were.

Pete Ballard was born in Welch, West Virginia and always had an interest in design. Early in his career, he worked briefly in the design of theatre costumes. From there, he began restoration work of clothing for museum exhibits. His work has won the Award of Merit from the Historic Preservation Society of North Carolina, Inc., the Gold Award from the National Retail Merchants Association (for an exhibit in Louisville, Kentucky), among others. He has also done occasional volunteer work for the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Pete Ballard.Pete Ballard.It was probably Pete's work with museums that triggered the idea to use the old scraps to make fashion dolls. Even though he has been responsible for saving and restoring many, many articles of clothing, he has no collection of his own. It is his strong belief and one that he stresses, that these things should be in museums where they can be shared and enjoyed by everyone.

In doing research for totally authentic costumes for his fashion dolls, Pete found that ladies in Tazewell County, Virginia (where he has roots) were as well dressed as any other. He remarked that the old "everyday" clothing is much harder to find than "dress up" clothing. Everyday clothes were recycled into quilts.

Pete Ballard's collection of 36 dolls has been donated to the Historic Crab Orchard Museum in Tazewell,, Virginia. It has been on exhibit there since April and will remain open for viewing through spring and early summer.

Historic Crab Orchard Museum is open year round, but closed on Mondays. The admission price is $1.50 for adults and 75 cents for senior citizens and children 4 through 12. For more information, call 703-988-6755 or write P.O. Box 12, Tazewell, VA 24651.