DADE CITY — The collection is complete again.
Sporting a strapless champagne-colored gown with sparkling drop-style earrings that match what Florida first lady Ann Scott wore at Gov. Rick Scott's 2011 inaugural ball, the blue-eyed doll with the pulled-back blond curls recently became the 42nd member of the Florida first ladies in miniature collection.
"Isn't she pretty?" marveled Barbara Russ, executive director of the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village, a 16-acre attraction that has housed the collection since the Tampa Doll Club started it in 1976.
The doll, which is 14 1/2 inches tall, will stand next to Columba Bush, wife of Gov. Jeb Bush (1999-2007). Columba Bush's doll was added in 2003.
For a while, prospects of having an Ann Scott doll looked bleak.
No one gave the collection much thought when then-bachelor Charlie Crist (2007-2011) was sworn in as Florida's 44th governor. He married New York socialite Carole Rome in 2008.
By the time Gov. Rick Scott was elected, the doll club had disbanded. Most of the original members had died or were elderly and frail.
No current doll makers were interested. The few who were, wanted to be paid. And the style of dolls they made didn't bear enough resemblance to the others to be appropriate.
A story last year in the Tampa Bay Times about the absence of an Ann Scott doll got the attention of Lovea Thomas, a retired postal clerk from the northeast Pasco town of Trilby and an original doll club member.
"I called them to let them know I wasn't dead," said Mrs. Thomas, 83, whose first name is pronounced Luv-EE.
Russ asked her if she would make an Ann Scott doll for the collection. She accepted.
"It took me three months," said Mrs. Thomas, who came down with shingles during that time. "I'm glad it's done."
The strapless gown required extra effort. She had to find a doll with arms made of porcelain. Most are made of cloth, stuffed with sawdust.
Using material sent from Ann Scott's designer, Robert Danes of Palm Beach, she made one gown from satin.
"It was the ugliest thing I'd ever seen," said Mrs. Thomas, who made gowns for four of the other dolls, including the high-waisted gold silk creation worn by the likeness of Donna Lou Askew, wife of Reubin Askew (1971-1979). A second effort made of a stiffer cloth Danes sent worked. The challenge came in finding matching thread to complete the 12 hand-sewn pleats.
After searching in vain, "I pulled threads from the material and used them to baste the tucks," she said.
She ended up having to glue the top of the dress to the doll's body.
"I could not figure out a way to make that dress stay up," she said.
Making doll clothes might not sound like a big deal to some people, Mrs. Thomas said, but the doll club members took great pains to make everything as authentic as possible.
The group got the idea for the Florida first lady dolls after hearing about a similar collection in Kentucky.
The idea at first was to house a Florida collection in Tallahassee. But the state balked at providing display cases, then offered to house the collection at the state's guesthouse in Washington, D.C. The club instead took the collection to Dade City.
The work reflects years of research into clothing worn by the first ladies. Gowns from the earliest eras are representations of period clothing.
"We looked on tombstones," Mrs. Thomas said. "We wrote letters to family and friends."
The club even made undergarments for dolls representing the era of corsets and pantaloons.
"It's exquisite work," said museum director Russ. "It shows a time line. And what women did was also important."
Russ said the club might consider a replica of Carole Crist, perhaps in a wedding gown.
However, they'll have to find a new doll maker.
"This is my last one," Mrs. Thomas said.
The doll drew praise from Ann Scott, who has seen a photo. The original gown is in the governor's mansion and will be donated to the Department of State after Gov. Scott leaves office.
"I am delighted to join the ranks of the previous First Ladies of Florida and have one of these beautiful dolls made in my honor," she said in a statement to the Times. "I look forward to seeing the collection in person soon."