DADE CITY — The dolls are decked out in period dress, from bonnets and hoopskirts to slender black gowns, with every detail authentic down to the fabrics and the corsets.
For years the one-of-a-kind collection of Florida first lady dolls has delighted schoolchildren and others who visit the Pioneer Florida Museum north of Dade City.
Only now, one thing is missing:
Florida's newest first lady, Ann Scott.
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The women of the Pasco Pioneer Doll Club created the collection in 1976, inspired by a similar display of first lady dolls at the Kentucky statehouse. 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 the Pioneer Florida Museum.
The women researched each of Florida's first ladies — dating to Rachel J. Jackson, wife of provisional Gov. Andrew Jackson (1821) — and crafted dolls in each woman's likeness. The dolls are 16 to 18 inches tall, handmade and hand painted, with hairstyles, accessories, and in some cases, undergarments, to authentically represent the first lady being honored. Most are depicted as they appeared at their husband's inauguration.
Over the years, some first ladies got involved personally in the process. Mary Jane Martinez, wife of Gov. Bob Martinez (1987-91), helped the club contact the designer of her gown. Her likeness sports a replica of the dress made from the same material, provided by the designer.
In another case, one family led a dollmaker to a piano covering made of the same type of fabric as the first lady's dress. Club members also strived to re-create the alternative fabrics employed during war years when silk and lace were in short supply.
Many of the club members were in their 80s when the doll of Columba Bush, wife of Jeb Bush (1999-2007), joined the collection in 2003.
No one gave the collection much thought in 2006 when Charlie Crist was elected. There was no inaugural ball and no first lady, until the governor wed New York socialite Carole Rome in 2008.
In the meantime, doll club members had died or grew too frail to continue their craft or keep up their club. By the time Rick Scott became Florida's 45th governor, no one was left to craft a likeness of Ann Scott, with her blond up-do and a shimmering strapless gold gown.
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Jeanette Howard of the Tampa Bay Fashion Doll Club recently attended a large doll convention in Orlando. She asked around to see if anyone would be interested in picking up the tradition.
"Many of (the one-of-a-kind doll makers) specialized in fairies, reborn baby dolls and such," she said. "I wish I knew someone more knowledgeable about one-of-a-kind dolls, but that's out of my area."
A spokesman for the governor's office promised to pass a message to Mrs. Scott regarding the dolls, but no one responded.
Barbara Russ, the Pioneer Florida Museum's executive director, said the dolls are valuable because of their workmanship and reflection of history and fashion. "You can see the styles changing," she said. "Hemlines go up and down. Some have purses or gloves. They put an amazing amount of work and detail into all of them."
The collection has 41 dolls — a few governors, such as Crist, were not married when they were inaugurated.
But for the first time in decades, the display is incomplete.
"If someone would make an Ann Scott doll," Russ said, "we'd love to have it."
Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.