The bronze statue of Dolly Parton has graced the Sevier County Courthouse yard for 30 years.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Of course you know Dolly! Dolly Parton is renowned as a singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, actress, author, businesswoman and philanthropist. She’s a member of the Grand Ole Opry and the most honored female country performer of all time.
You may know that she grew up in Sevierville, Tennessee. But, unless you’ve visited her hometown and heard how kindly people talk about her behind her back, you may not fully grasp the depth of love the community feels for her or seen all of the proof that the feeling is mutual. “She loves her community and her community loves her,” said Brenda McCroskey, chief executive officer of the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce.
That may be an understatement!
30 years ago the community chose to honor Dolly by placing a statue of her on the Sevier County Courthouse lawn in historic downtown Sevierville. To mark the 30th anniversary of that statue, a special exhibit entitled 30: Celebrating Dolly in Bronze will be on display at the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center throughout 2017.
Crafted by nationally-known local artist Jim Gray, the six-and-a-half-foot tall sculpture shows Dolly fresh faced with a loose ponytail, sitting barefoot on a mountain boulder with her guitar. It captures Dolly’s love of the Smoky Mountains and surrounding community while also celebrating her joyful spirit. Dolly ranks the work as one of her most-prized recognitions and has said, “One of the best things that ever happened to me in my whole career is the statue of me in the Courthouse yard in Sevierville.”
The special exhibit 30: Celebrating Dolly in Bronze showcases a wax-over-metal maquette of the statue made by Gray to use as a proposal, the autographed stool on which Parton posed for the statue, a bronze study for the statue, and several other items used by the artist to create the monument. These priceless artifacts are on loan from the East Tennessee History Center with the permission of the Gray family.
At the grand opening reception for 30: Celebrating Dolly in Bronze a lineup of local dignitaries sang Dolly’s praises.
“The thing that really amazes me about Dolly Parton is that she didn’t wait until she got really wealthy to give back to the County,” said Bryan Atchley, mayor of the City of Sevierville. “As soon as she could, she gave back. That’s amazing.” In the 1970s she helped raise money for band uniforms. In 2016, in response to devastating forest fires in the area, Dolly launched the My People Fund to provide $1,000 each month for up to six months to Sevier County families who lost their homes in the wildfires. “I never heard of anything like it!” said Atchley. “And then what happened across the country and the world, people wanted to give. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to this County by far. She’s no longer the songbird of Sevier County, she’s the angel of Sevier County.”
“I commend the city fathers for their vision and foresight 30 years ago to erect this statue on the courthouse lawn,” said Cherel Henderson, Director, East Tennessee History Center. “Dolly Parton is part of the heart and soul of this region and its people. She’s never forgotten where she came from and who her people are.”
“Some years ago on a cold winter day in January Dr. Robert F. Thomas traveled to Locust Ridge to deliver a baby girl to Lee and Avie Lee Parton,” said Gary Wade, Retired Tennessee Supreme Court Justice and former Sevierville Mayor. “His reward for his services was a sack of flour. Some 25 years later Dolly penned a song called ‘Dr. Robert F. Thomas’ released in 1973. She extended that tribute further when in 1984 she accepted a position as the honorary chair of the Dr. Thomas Foundation, an organization which provided much needed support to what used to be our Sevier County Hospital. By that time she had done much for Sevier County and we honored her by placing a statue, appropriately, in the Sevier County Courthouse yard. She’s done much since then. She did much before then. But I do not think that anything tops the My People Fund campaign, in consequence of the fires that began on November 24th of last year and spread to the Gatlinburg area on November 28th. Within a month Dolly provided relief for her people. Yes, she has been a local treasure, a community treasure, a state treasure, and a national treasure. In fact I think today it’s fair to say we can call her the patron saint of her Tennessee Mountain home.”
“Dolly really regrets not being here,” said Ted Miller, President of Dolly Parton Productions. “She loves this community and love from the community, knowing that people really care for you, is bigger than industry rewards.”
30: Celebrating Dolly in Bronze is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center located at 3099 Winfield Dunn Parkway, Kodak, Tennessee. For additional details call 888-738-4378.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
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