Dolly Parton Picks Christian University To Display Her ‘Life In Rhinestones’


NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Everything at the ribbon-cutting for Dolly Parton’s new exhibit was high fashion — including the ribbon.

The country music legend grasped a large pair of scissors alongside Lipscomb University President Candice McQueen. They struggled just a bit to slice through the pink and gold sash, bedecked with butterflies.

“That was thick!” Parton exclaimed as she and McQueen finally made the cut, officially opening “Dolly Parton and the Makers: My Life in Rhinestones” in the university’s Beaman Library. The exhibit features dresses, shoes and accessories that Parton has worn on stage and on camera throughout her 50-year career, plus the stories of the designers who created them.

“I have a lot of friends that have gone to Lipscomb, but I never thought that I was going to wind up having my display here,” said Dolly Parton as she and Lipscomb President Candice McQueen opened the library exhibit.

The exhibit had its genesis at Camp Wyldewood in Searcy, Arkansas. That’s where Rocky Horton Jr., director of Lipscomb’s school for art and design, spent his summers. Among the teens he met at camp was Iisha Lemming.

“For me, it was the highlight of my year.” Lemming said of Wyldewood, “as it was a chance to get out of my tiny hometown, make new friends, sleep in screened cabins with no A/C and make art, ride horses, hike and do regular devotionals with singing.”

Lemming continued to pursue art in college, earning a master’s in fashion. Eventually, she became Parton’s pattern maker, or draper.

Horton, who earned his bachelor’s from Harding University in Searcy, contacted Lemming about procuring “a piece or two to frame an exhibit around” at Lipscomb, said Charlotte Poling, chair of Lipscomb’s fashion and design department.

Parton’s archivist, Rebecca Seaver, had a better idea — an exhibit of fashion to coincide with the forthcoming book “Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones.”

Lipscomb had the perfect place for the exhibit, Poling said: “Here we are in the library, where (Parton) is so passionate about education and literacy.” Parton’s Imagination Library initiative has gifted more than 221 million books to children around the world.

Lipscomb also has a connection to Parton through its association with Churches of Christ. Parton and her husband of 57 years, Carl Dean, worshiped with the Radnor Church of Christ in Nashville for a brief time in the mid-1960s. A display of old hymnals and Bibles in the library’s lobby details Parton’s career-long emphasis on faith and gospel music.

Lemming, who is serving a stint as artist in residence at Lipscomb, worked with fashion and design students to create the exhibit.

When asked to describe Parton’s style from a fashion designer’s perspective, Poling laughed and said, “Very sparkly, from our perspective!

“She, of course, is one of a kind,” Poling added. While Parton’s look is unique, the techniques used to produce her styles — rhinestoning, tambour beading and “building a couture bodice that is framed to someone’s body” — have broad application for students seeking careers in fashion for the masses.

The exhibit includes detailed descriptions and diagrams that show how the dresses came to life.

There’s also recreation of Parton’s makeup mirror, plus bright lights, backgrounds and a Dolly Parton cutout for visitors to use in selfies.

The exhibit continues through Dec. 9. Tickets are $25. Click here for tickets and more information.

This piece is republished from The Christian Chronicle with permission.

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