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Lipscomb students join the ‘sparkly village’ of Dolly Parton’s team

More than 40 students from 12 majors enrolled in a practicum to bring the “Dolly Parton and the Makers” exhibit to life this fall.

Janel Shoun-Smith/Photos by Kristi Jones | 

An outfit and artifacts and the Dolly and the Makers exhibit

“It takes a very sparkly village,” to reflect the authentic goodwill and superstar power of iconic country singer Dolly Parton to the world.

That’s what Rebecca Seaver, the lead archivist for the rhinestone-loving entertainer, said at an industry panel discussion during Lipscomb Fashion Week leading up to the Oct. 27 opening of “Dolly Parton and the Makers: My Life in Rhinestones” on the Lipscomb campus.

It also took a “village,” (some sparkly, some not so much) for Lipscomb University to help develop and host the one-of-a-kind exhibit featuring 25 of Parton’s outfits, now being seen by thousands of people through Dec. 9. 

See local TV coverage of how our students were involved in the exhibit.

Student designs outfits at the exhibit entrance

Fashion design students, Youssef Nagib, Annabel Brown, Ashley Izquierdo Renteral, Kalissa Finn and Blossom Omeje, were tapped to create five outfits inspired by Dolly Parton.

More than 40 students from 12 majors enrolled in a practicum through the Department of Fashion and Design began working in June along with Seaver; Steve Summers, creative director; and others in the Parton organization to develop the exhibit, film a documentary, create a marketing campaign and merchandising items, and prepare to staff and hold the event.

In addition to the practicum teams, other students were pulled in to perform music at special events, create decor for outside Beaman Library, to report on the exhibit for the student-run HERD media and more.

“Everyone we came in contact with [from Parton’s organization] said, ‘When can we start working with the students and how can we inspire them?’” said Charlotte Poling, chair of the fashion department. “We often talk about the beauty of the people she chooses to work with. Team Dolly is a real thing and it feels authentic, like it comes from her.”

These mugs sold in the gift shop were designed by the student art director

Sean Worth's coral pink brand design with flowers and butterflies is evident throughout the exhibit and promotion efforts.

The practicum class included plenty of fashion design majors, but also students education, film, hospitality, music, public relations and psychology majors, Poling said. Nine student teams were set up to handle graphic design, social media, merchandising, gallery installation and management, film, Lipscomb’s Fashion Week events that involved Parton’s designers, gallery staff, event management and music.

Most of the students only knew Parton as Aunt Dolly from the TV show Hannah Montana or from Dollywood, but they got up to speed quickly. 

Sean Worth, a junior graphic design major from Pennsylvania, was selected as art director. He led a five-person student team to work with Lipscomb University Marketing and the Parton organization to create advertisements, a logo, exhibit signage, merchandise for the gift shop, posters and a billboard, among other items.

Students working in the gift shop outside the main gallery.

Among the nine student teams set up to coordinate the event were teams for merchandising, gallery staff and event management.

Worth created the coral pink ad design with flowers and butterflies as well as corresponding digital artwork seen throughout the promotion efforts, including wraps to decorate the columns of the Beaman Library where the exhibit is being held and a billboard on Nashville’s Interstate 65.

When the billboard was being installed, Poling, packed a few students, including Worth, into her car and drove out to an industrial plant just off the interstate so they could watch the installation and get photos standing below the creation. Worth was also thrilled to see his poster in the background of a pre-event interview with Parton filmed on campus and aired nationally on CBS Mornings in October.

Brynn Abner, a senior film major from Johnson City, Tennessee, was tapped to be the director and post-production supervisor for a documentary to show at the exhibit. Leading a nine-student crew, Abner truly saw the magic “behind the seams,” interviewing eight members of Parton’s core team of creatives at locations including Parton’s shop at her Brentwood home and her Nashville offices.

Dolly Parton with Lipscomb student and faculty at CBS interview

Dolly Parton posed for a shot with (l to r) her former patternmaker Iisha Lemming, Lipscomb gallery Director Jamie Reschke, fashion Chair Charlotte Poling, and senior film student Brynn Abner at the pre-event interview taping by CBS.

She was also scheduled to do a Zoom interview with Los Angeles-based maker Robért Behar, but after discussing how Zoom footage would diminish the quality of the final cut, the Imagine House program in Lipscomb’s George Shinn College of Entertainment & the Arts flew her out to Los Angeles to film Behar in person at his downtown skyscraper apartment.

She was also thrilled to be allowed to be a “fly-on-the-wall” with the broadcast crew from CBS who came to Lipscomb’s campus to film Parton’s pre-event promotion of the exhibit. The crew invited her to lunch, giving her some valuable networking time.

After her first few interviews, Abner found herself drawn to the descriptions and stories of the community of makers at the Parton organization, so the coordinators decided to make one 15-minute documentary about the makers themselves to run in the lobby area before entering the main gallery, and a second 7 1/2 -minute film about the dresses themselves.

The student ensemble Chorale performs a the opening

The student ensemble Chorale performed 1977 Parton hit “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Visitors waiting in line to enter the main exhibit hall are able to read about Parton’s influence throughout society thanks to students Blossom Omeje, a senior fashion student from Houston, and Adah Gowdy, a sophomore fashion design student from Berryville, Virginia.

Both conducted research into Parton’s influence in music, book, philanthropy, fashion and entertainment. They created a 34-page document that was winnowed down to a few powerful paragraphs.

Omeje also contributed to the main gallery’s information on the various makers who made the iconic outfits. She researched designers Bob Mackie and Iisha Lemming (visiting faculty member at Lipscomb this fall), and interviewed Lintu Holman, Parton’s make-up artist who had previously done special effects make-up in Hollywood.

In addition to the practicum teams, additional fashion design students (Youssef Nagib, Annabel Brown, Ashley Izquierdo Renteral, Kalissa Finn and Omeje) were tapped to create five outfits inspired by Dolly Parton which are on display at the exhibit entrance. The student ensemble Chorale, led by Director of Choral Activities Matt Taylor, performed 1977 Parton hit “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” for Parton herself at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Oct. 27.

Engineering student working on butterflies for traffic marker

The Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering recruited students to help manufacture large pink, metal butterflies to mark the turn onto onto campus.

The Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering recruited students Joseph LaPorte, Jonathan Ochoa-Guzman, Jessamine Reckard and Sawyer Shepherd, to help Assistant Professor Samuel Wright manufacture large pink, metal butterflies to visually cue visitors where to turn onto campus and smaller acrylic butterflies to decorate the trees outside Beaman Library.

Even doctoral and master’s archaeology students pitched in to help set up a special exhibit visitors can view as they exit the gallery. Savanna Henning, Emma Augustin and Liana Blackburn, students in the Lanier Center for Archaeology, helped display artifacts themed around the beauty practices of women in the ancient Near Eastern and Eastern Mediterranean world. 

By all accounts, all parties were happy with the students’ achievements. In fact, Seaver posted on her social media accounts about how “working with Lipscomb students was a win!”

Lipscomb Students team leaders posing with Dolly Parton at the opening

The eight practicum student team leaders post with Dolly Parton at the Oct. 27 opening of the "Dolly Parton and the Markers" exhibit.