In 1987 Jim was commissioned to create a bronze sculpture, that would sit on the Sevier County Courthouse lawn, to honor hometown hero Dolly Parton. Sixteen years later, Jim and Dolly would share the stage at the historic Ryman Auditorium, as each was recognized with Tennessee's highest award for achievement in the arts.
Working with Dolly was a highpoint in Jim's career, and certainly earned her a prominent place in his Joy of Life Parade.
TRIBUTE TO JIM GRAY
HON. JOHN J. DUNCAN, JR. OF TENNESSEE IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Thursday, March 20, 2003 (from the official record)
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Speaker, on March 12, 2003, Jim Gray, a member of my constituency, was honored with Tennessee’s highest artistic award. The Tennessee Arts Commission presented Jim with the Distinguished Artist Award as a part of the 2003 Governor’s Awards in the Arts in Nashville, TN. Jim’s artistic drive has been with him his entire life, and he used his talents to guide his career as a young adult as an illustrator, an advertising executive, and as a technical illustrator in the United States Air Force. After a visit with his family to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1966, Jim found an artistic inspiration that he had never felt before. This inspiration led him to move to east Tennessee, where his desire to paint the beauty of the Tennessee countryside became his passion.
Mr. Duncan then asked that the following news account be added into the official record:
STATE HONORS 2 OF ITS GREATEST GRACE NOTES
DOLLY PARTON, ARTIST JIM GRAY
WIN TENNESSEE’S HIGHEST AWARD FOR ACHIEVEMENT IN ARTS
(By Terry Morrow)
NASHVILLE, Mar. 12, 2003.—A couple of hundred miles away from their beloved Smoky Mountains, singer Dolly Parton and artist Jim Gray found common ground Tuesday night on the stage of Ryman Auditorium. It was there that the Tennessee Arts Commission paid tribute to them with the 2003 Governor’s Awards in the Arts, the state’s highest artistic honor. Parton received the Lifetime Achievement Award for numerous musical, educational and thespian achievements. Gray was recognized with a Distinguished Artist Award for his paintings and his part in helping to create the artists’ community in Gatlinburg.
Parton and Gray were noted for their particular contributions in East Tennessee. Many of Parton’s songs are based on her East Tennessee childhood. Gray’s work often includes majestic scenes of the Great Smoky Mountains. Moving from Mobile, Ala., in 1966 to Gatlinburg, Gray aided in creating the city’s arts and crafts community.
Thanking his wife Fran, his three children, and seven grandchildren, Gray said,
‘‘What an honor. It’s very emotional for me. How can it get any better than this?’’
Parton and Gray have worked together before. A bronze statue of Parton, created by Gray in 1987, sits in front of the Sevier County Courthouse in Sevierville. Thousands of tourists stop to see the 2–ton, life-size structure each year. ‘‘At 70, I’ve been blessed all these years doing what I have loved the best,’’ Gray said. ‘‘I have been working full-time in fine arts since 1966. As far as I am concerned, this is icing on the cake, and it has been a wonderful cake I have enjoyed.’’ Knoxville will honor Gray with a reception Thursday, April 3, at the Knoxville Museum of Art. In addition to celebrating the Governor’s Award, the Jim Gray painting ‘‘Rising Above’’ will be on display, and Mayor Victor Ashe will announce that the painting has been purchased as part of the Knoxville Convention Center art collection.
Jim shared his thoughts on the Dolly sculpture:
"Creating a sculpture of Dolly was one of the true highlights of my career as an artist. That bronze was going to be around after both Dolly and I were long gone from this world, and I wanted to make sure that I captured the joyful spirit of this wonderful lady, who had grown up in these mountains of East Tennessee, while making sure that it would also stand the test of time sculpturally, as a piece of art. Looking back 30 years now, I am still thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with Dolly and to know that this sculpture continues to honor her on behalf of the thousands who live in Sevier County and the millions who visit here."
30:Dolly in Bronze- Opened on Wednesday Mar 15, 2017
Photo credit to Carroll McMahan
Dolly visited Jim's studio in Knoxville early on in the project, and later to see how the clay sculpture was progressing and to give Jim the opportunity to study her face for the likeness in the sculpture. He said "It was very rewarding to have her see the finished piece and to see the delight in her face, which was reflected in the smile on mine."
Once again, Dolly Parton has made something wonderful even better. When funds were being raised for the Dr Robert F.Thomas Memorial Hospital in Sevierville, TN, Dolly was the Honorary Chairperson. Jim Gray was asked to create a watercolor painting of Dr Thomas. Portrayed on horseback, calling on a mountain family at the edge of daylight, in the hills of East Tennessee, this was not Dolly's home, but well could have been the scene, as Dr Thomas actually delivered Dolly! Folks who made substantial donations to the Hospital were each given a lithograph of the painting and each was signed by both Jim Gray and Dolly Parton! When the fundraiser was successfully completed, Jim gifted the original watercolor to Dolly, and it has hung in her home in Nashville ever since. However, Dolly was asked, and she enthusiastically agreed, to loan the painting as a cornerstone addition to the collection now known as "Smokies Splendor" at the East Tennessee Historical Society.
Now, when the collection opens for all to enjoy, this proud rider will be a treasured part of the display. Thank you Dolly, for adding your special touch to this project!
For all who might also like to have a part in this process, we invite you to visit http://www.easttnhistory.org/jimgray and consider a donation to ETHS Smokies Splendor.
Jim's easle, paintings, sculpture, and artifacts from his studio are part of the collection now housed at the East Tennessee Historical Society Museum in Knoxville.
CMT Greatest Moments: Dolly Parton (2006 TV Movie)
When the producers at CMT called the gallery, explained a bit about the TV movie they were making, and asked if we could gather photos and information about the sculpture for them, we were quite excited to think the Dolly bronze was one of the 20 greatest moments in Dolly's storied life. No one said just how far up the list the bronze was in Dolly's memories, so we waited for the program to air on CMT and got quite excited when #10 arrived and the bronze statue had not been shown. When #5 came and went, we were sort of jumping in our seats. By the time #4 and #3 aired, I could no longer keep my seat. Of course there was a commercial break... and then #2 was announced... Hall of Fame Inductions (Country Music Hall of Fame (1999); National Songwriters Hall of Fame (2001))
Wait, were those two #2 and #1?
The complete list of CMT 20 Greatest Moments were: 20. The Porter Wagoner Show (1967-1974) 19. "Jolene" (1974) 18. Honky Tonk Angels (1993) with Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn 17. Playboy (1978 Cover) 16. The Grass Is Blue (1999) 15. Grand Ole Opry Membership (1969) 14. "When I Get Where I'm Going" (2006) with Brad Paisley 13. Johnny's Favorites (1977 Tonight Show) 12. Trio (1987) with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris 11. Dolly and Kenny Rogers (1983) 10. Entertainer of the Year (Academy of Country Music (1977); Country Music Association (1978)) 9. Dollywood (1986) 8. Steel Magnolias (1989) 6. "Travelin' Thru" (2006) 5. Imagination Library (1996) 4. "I Will Always Love You" (1974, 1982, 1992, 1996) 3. 9 to 5 (1980) 2. Hall of Fame Inductions (Country Music Hall of Fame (1999); National Songwriters Hall of Fame (2001)) 1. Bronze Dolly Statue on the Sevier County Courthouse lawn (1987)
...and the crowd goes wild!!!
On July 27, 2019, I was helping Dad with his lunch as some of the staff members helped others living at Brown County Health. Dad sat quietly and was not very enthusiastic about his meal, and I overheard one nurse say that she had plans to go to Dollywood with her twin grandchildren. Another staff member spoke up and said that she saw that Mr. Jim had a photo with Dolly. Still proud of my Daddy, I told the staff about the bronze sculpture he had done. They excitedly asked Jim if he remembered meeting Dolly? He raised his head, pondered just a moment, smiled, and said two words. "Oh yeah."
We all laughed happily and agreed that Dolly is unforgettable.