OPINION: There’s only one issue with Dolly Parton’s courthouse statue

Dolly Parton statue in Sevier County
Hannah Henderson / Shutterstock.com

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There’s a bit of danger in commissioning a statue. 

First, of a practical nature, what if something isn’t quite right? I’m thinking about the infamous bust of soccer player Christian Renaldo, which turned one of the best looking men in the world into an evil-eyed psycho.

Instead of a tribute, whoever commissioned that work got infinite rounds of mocking internet memes and a front page listing in the book of cautionary tales. 

But there are other dangers. If the subject of the statue is living, there’s a chance that something could go wrong. We’ll call this the OJ Simpson corollary. In 1990, either the city of Buffalo or the University of Southern California would have been perfectly justified in commissioning a statue to honor a favorite son. 

Just a couple of years later, all they would have had was a very difficult to explain landmark. 

But there are also times that creating a statue to honor a native son or daughter is a no-brainer. Such is the case with the Dolly Parton statue on the grounds of the Sevier County courthouse. 

Jim Gray sculpting the Dolly Parton statue (left), Dolly Parton talks about her statue at the courthouse (right) (Images via of The Artist Jim Gray’s photo gallery, www.jimgraygallery.com/jim)

First, by the time the statue was dedicated in 1987, Dolly was one of the most famous and beloved women in the world. A talented song-writer, singer, musician and actress, she was just embarking on an endeavor to show off her business acumen as Silver Dollar City was rechristened Dollywood. 

The one issue with Dolly’s statue 

Tack on her legendary philanthropy efforts and the only issue with Dolly’s statue is that there aren’t more of them. Sevier County should issue a series of Dolly statues at various stages of her life and locate them all around the county. 

Dolly is truly a native daughter that can’t be celebrated enough. 

But let’s return to the statue we do have, that made its debut more than 30 years ago. Now, I don’t like to brag but I’ve seen a few statues in my day, and in my humble opinion, this one is among the best I’ve seen. 

Created by Jim Gray – neither the television sports reporter nor the acclaimed computer scientist, I checked – the statue is an excellent representation of Dolly’s spirit. 

There’s a joy of heart present that transcends the cold bronze of which it is made. It reminds me, honestly, of Peter Pan’s statue in Hyde Park in London. It captures a puckish spirit, that I find befitting a young Dolly, who I can picture running around the mountains like something out of an East Tennessee Shakespeare play. 

Dolly is more than a local girl made good. She’s a sprite, a fairy, a being of light and magic who has made the world a better place. 

In this imagining, Dolly sits on a rock, hair pulled back and holding her beloved guitar. Her rolled up jeans give the impression of her bare feet dipping into a frigid mountain stream on a warm summer day. 

A butterfly rests on near one of the guitar’s frets and Dolly looks off into the distance with a beaming smile. 

In a way, it’s interesting that this is the season of Dolly’s life they chose to portray. I guess it makes sense, logically. At this stage of her life, Dolly would have been living in Sevier County, dreaming of bigger things. 

Left: PT Hamilton / Shutterstock, Right: Sevier County Courthouse
The Dolly Parton statue in the courtyard (left) (photo by PT Hamilton / Shutterstock)

But this isn’t the Dolly most of America knows. This is an unadorned young woman, not the giant star who built her reputation on elaborate outfits, outlandish talent and a bawdy sense of humor that charmed the rest of the world. 

What Dolly thinks of her statue 

In a Youtube video uploaded in 2011, Dolly talks about this statue and says, “I’ve had the good fortune of getting to travel all over this world. I’ve had all kinds of wonderful awards, but I think probably one of the things I’m proudest of in my whole career, my whole life, really, is this statue of me in the courthouse yard in Sevierville.” 

She says in the video that her dad would try to humble her a bit by telling her, “To your fans, you may be some sort of an idol, but to the the pigeons down at the courthouse, you’re just another outhouse.” 

“My dad was so sweet, he was proud of it,” Dolly continued. “They told me later, before my dad died … he used to sneak out at night, late after the town had kinda calmed down and go down and scrub the pigeon poop off my statue. I know that you think I’m tryin’ to be funny, but I’m not, cause I cried my eyes out when I heard that.”  

It’s been 30 years since the statue was built, so I imagine she’s used to it, but I wonder what it’s like for Dolly to roll past that likeness of herself every time she comes back to town.

It must be odd to have a life-size version of your younger self, frozen in time ready to star in dozens of selfies at a moment’s notice. 

I picture Dolly going there on quiet evenings and communing with herself. I’ve long been told – and believed – that Dolly is able to move around Sevierville, and her park, virtually unrecognized without makeup and wigs.

I like the idea that she can shed the butterfly wings she painted for herself and crawl back into the comfortable cocoon of who she was before the world knew her name. I like the idea that the young mountain girl forever perched on that rock can visit with the woman she became.

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