History buff creates prize-winning Civil War doll
Cheryl Dale has never been a doll person. But when the Genteel Arts Academy put out its call for entries for reproduction 1855-1865 dolls in the sewing and needlework competition at the annual Ladies and Gentlemen of the 1860s Conference, the Mathews resident was up to the challenge.
She won both Judge’s Choice and People’s Choice in the Masters Class for Rebecca Ann “Annie” Bishop, a Civil War-era contraband doll that’s period correct, all the way from the top of her spoon bonnet-covered china head to the bottom of her black kid shoes.
Dale is a living history buff who has been a member of a Revolutionary War group and a black powder club, among others. Originally a history major at the College of William and Mary, Dale decided she didn’t enjoy studying “dates, wars and politics.” What interested her were social mores, period clothing, historical homes, and child-raising techniques of days gone by. She switched her college to VCU and her major to communications and eventually pursued a career as a technical writer.
But a love of history was engrained in her, and while supporting herself as a writer, she followed her own course of study, doing research into the social lives of people in the Civil War era and even spending a semester at the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court in England, where she was certified in Jacobean crewel, silk thread painting and goldwork.
“She truly is an historian and expert in mid-19th century clothing,” said Dale’s fiancé, Tom Karow of Mathews.
In making Annie, Dale purchased a china head with blond hair off eBay, but she made every other part of the doll herself. The body is unbleached cotton muslin, with hands and feet made of recycled kid gloves. The doll’s back has a hidden pocket for carrying contraband, in this case a circa 1850s to 1860s cobalt quinine bottle (Quinine was used to treat malaria during the Civil War).