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Pete Ballard to Receive Honorary Doctorate

By James Hoyle
On December 1, 2015

Ballard has seen a lot of life since he last saw Concord, and it is an honor for the university to bestow an honorary Doctorate to him. 
Photo courtesy of

In his time, Pete Ballard has been an educator, a curator, a dollmaker, an adventurer, and a costume repairer. Soon, he will have one more role added to his roster: Doctorate holder. At this year’s  December 2015 commencement ceremony, Concord University will be presenting an Honorary Doctorate degree for his services not only as a Concord alumnus, but as a citizen of the world. 

Pete Ballard was born in Welch, West Virginia, on March 31, 1931. In a 2006 interview with Artworks, Ballard said he was happy to have been born in Welch in the time that he was. “At the time I was born, the cultural aspect of the town was perfect soil to nurture me as well as others who went into the study of the arts. I have been many places, but West Virginia is my home.” 

From an early age, Ballard was interested in the arts, particularly vintage clothes. To that end, Ballard attended Concord University, where he was a costume designer for many of the school’s theatre productions. Ballard graduated in 1953 with a degree in education, and would spend much of his earlier career abroad. He lived and worked in various places from China to India to Saudi Arabia, where he taught English as a second language for eight years. While in Saudi Arabia, he became acquainted with Sarah Churchill, daughter of the famous Winston Churchill. From this friendship with Sarah Churchill, he was able to meet and befriend Vivien Leigh, the actress most famous for her portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 classic Gone With The Wind

His time in foreign lands came to an end in in 1968. While he was checking on an orphanage in Jerusalem that he and his colleagues had been supporting via a secondhand clothing store, his hotel was bombed in an attack that was a part of the Six-Day War between Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. However, this was only the beginning of troubles for Ballard. He was checking on the orphanage as Jerusalem was a stop on his way to Vietnam. The United States State Department had asked him to help set up a university in Ho Chi Minh City (then named Saigon), where he was to begin an English language program. Unfortunately, the university was bombed and the classes never even began. 

After both incidents put him in danger of physical harm, Ballard returned to America to have, “…just one, peaceful year.” He took up a job teaching at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C. While he was working there, he was offered a job curating and repairing the costume collection of the Reynolds House. He was approached by the R.J Reynolds family. This would initiate a second phase of Ballard’s career. The next 12 years would see him repair many costumes and outfits for many museums all across the south and indeed the country, including the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

After restoring about 30,000 costumes, one tends to accumulate a great deal of fabric. Rather than burning it, Ballard decided to use the fabric to create dolls. Since that time, Ballard has made more than 200 dolls. Each doll is made of papier-mâché, with clothing hand-stitched by Ballard. At auction, a Pete Ballard Doll can go on average from anywhere from $1,400 to $14,000, which makes it all the more interesting that Ballard donates his work. In the interview with Artworks, Ballard said, “I do not make money producing art, I donate it.”

Throughout his long and varied career, Ballard has won numerous awards. In 2007, former Governor Joe Manchin awarded Ballard the Distinguished West Virginian Award, which is the highest award that a Governor can give a West Virginian. He would receive attention from the state government again in 2010, where Manchin gave him the Order of the 35th Star, with the State Division of Culture and History describing him as “a state treasure.” 

This Honorary Doctorate from his original Alma Mater is only further proof of what one can do with the proper motivation, and the thirst and skills necessary to prove oneself to the world.

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