“Classic country music has always found a home in any good print shop,” says Margot Ecke of Athens, Ga.-based Smokey Road Press. She’s the organizer behind Tease It to Jesus, a Dolly Parton-themed print exhibition. Of the show’s star, Ecke says, “She is so loved and so colorful and expressive that she makes the perfect subject for such a project.”
The exhibition, on display at Asheville BookWorks through Saturday, Aug. 29, began as an invitational portfolio exchange. Thirty-five artists each contributed at least 40 prints — enough for exhibiting and for each artist to receive a complete portfolio of work. This method behind the show also makes use of printmaking’s natural advantage for the creation of multiples. “Printmaking is about community, technical skills, generosity and love of the craft.” says Ecke. “These qualities are also an integral part of Dolly Parton.”
Tease It to Jesus debuted in May, in Knoxville, Tenn., during the Southern Graphics Print Conference. Before coming to Asheville, it was on display at Smokey Road Press, and it will travel back to Georgia this fall to be shown at the University of North Georgia’s Oconee campus.
Asheville BookWorks founder and director Laurie Corral says that when she saw the Knoxville installation, “I just loved the work, the title, the idea and subject of it.” She contacted Ecke to bring the Dolly Parton print show to Asheville. Of Parton’s iconic look, Corral says, “I love her style. She can come off as fluffy as cotton candy, but I admire her down-to-earth, honest personality.”
Parton is more than just a musician: “She’s iconic Americana material,” says Corral. “She’s held our attention for many years as music performer, film actress and theme park hostess, and she’s a good citizen, giving back through nonprofits that benefit early literacy.”
In her piece, California-based artist Asuka Ohsawa included the text “The higher the hair, the closer to God.” The boldly colored print uses swirling line work for Parton’s bouffant, which is surrounded by a grid of stars and offset by Western-styled text. “As I was working on my ideas for this project, I went on a Dolly binge, looking through tons of Dolly photos online and watching her interviews and concerts on YouTube,” says Ohsawa.
Business partners and collaborators Beth Schaible and Ele Annand, of local studio 7 Ton Design and Letterpress Co. created an understated portrait of Parton without the glitz and glamor she is often known for. “We love Dolly, particularly really early Dolly,” says Schaible. “We wanted to create a print that taps into that time period, instead of what one normally associates with her image.”
The three-color letterpress print has the nostalgia of a vintage record album cover. The introspective portrait is paired with lyrical handwriting. “The calligraphy lyrics in the background are pulled from an album that has much more subdued and sad songs, which I suppose is generally more of our speed around the shop,” says Schaible.
Though it can be difficult for some artists to create a piece around an externally determined theme, it is not foreign to Schaible and the 7 Ton team. While producing many of their contracted design and letterpress products, “we have set parameters and guidelines we have to adhere to, and then within that we get to stretch and show our design style,” Schaible says.
In her own response to the theme, Utah-based artist Sage Perrott says Parton has “created such a completely recognizable aesthetic. She is so visually fascinating. It’s part of the reason she makes such a great subject for all these prints.” Perrott’s silk-screened print for the portfolio is titled “Bittersweet,” a nod to “I Will Always Love You,” one of her favorite songs written by Parton.
“The lyrics are sort of floating or swimming inside her signature hairstyle, which is also surrounded by a few ghosts,” Perrot says. “I’d venture to guess [Dolly Parton] and that hair might be magic.”