Autry Highlights Rhinestone Cowboys

Marty Stuart's glittery collection of country music memorabilia is on display

This appeared in the Ventura County Star - May 1, 2009

At the Autry National Center a few days ago, country music singer Marty Stuart — his feathered honky-tonk hair standing its usual several inches high — pointed to some old papers with handwritten scribbling. He shook his head and said, “These were going to be thrown away. But I thought they were important, so I kept them.”

The papers under discussion were original lyric sheets for Johnny Cash’s “Man in Black” and “San Quentin.” These historical pieces are just a few of the hundreds of rare country music items Stuart has collected over the past four decades.

Stuart culled personal favorites from his warehouse of clothes, instruments, photographs and memorabilia to create Sparkle & Twang: Marty Stuart’s American Musical Odyssey, now on view at the Autry in Los Angeles. The exhibition’s previous stop was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, but Stuart believes the Autry is closer to home because most of the sparkly designer outfits he’s put on display originated at Nudie’s Rodeo Tailor in North Hollywood.

“In fact, the first piece in the show is a tapestry that is my tribute to Lankershim Boulevard,” said Stuart, referring to the street where tailor Nudie Cohn and the designers he mentored became the biggest influence on country music fashion in the 20th century. “The tapestry was made by Rose Clemons, the chief embroiderer for Nudie. I drew out on three paper towels this little scenario of comedy and tragedy as life, heaven on the top and hell on the bottom, and everything else is wearing cowboy clothes.”

The tapestry, which Clemons created with Victorian thread she brought to America from England, pays homage to Cohn and his protégé, Manuel Cuevas.

Stuart began collecting Nudie suits once worn by music legends in the early 1980s. Styles had changed and the “Urban Cowboy” craze had rendered Nudie’s eye-popping creations obsolete.

One of several outfits on display is a dress belonging to Patsy Cline, which is paired with the boots she was wearing when she died, Stuart said. On the wall is a letter Cline wrote less than a week before her death in a 1963 plane crash. It’s addressed to “Mr. Nudie” and describes in detail her idea for a new dress.

Not every outfit is a Nudie. One of Stuart’s prized possessions is the first black suit worn by Cash.

“The edging on it was made by Grandma Cash, who bought the material down at J.C. Penney,” said Stuart, tracing the thin line of gold on the cuffs and lapels.

For children wanting to play dress-up, Sparkle & Twang includes a room filled with shirts and vests. After finding a suitable outfit, budding music stars can stand on a stage with a prop microphone and pretend to be the next Dolly Parton or Gene Autry.

An entire section is devoted to Hank Williams. Stuart befriended Williams’ sister Irene, who wound up selling many rare items to him, including a telegram sent from Williams’ mother to Irene that reads, “Come at once. Hank is dead.”

Stuart’s favorite items are photos from a Connie Smith concert he attended when he was 12.

“I went to hear her sing, and I had my mom buy me a yellow shirt so she might notice me,” Stuart said. “I got my picture taken with her, and on the way home I said to my mom, ‘I’m going to marry her.’ And 25 years later, I did.”

A few times during his walk through the galleries at the Autry, Stuart pointed to items that he said were once destined for the trash.

“I thought they were important,” he said, a statement now clearly vindicated. “That’s why I never throw anything away. And if you don’t believe me, you can come to my warehouse and see 20,000 other pieces I have.”

The singer displays some of his rare country music memorabilia, including such items as Elvis Presley’s sweater, Jerry Lee Lewis’ black boots and Johnny Cash’s white tuxedo. It’s on display from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through August 23, 2009 at the Autry National Center, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles. Admission is $9 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, $3 for children 3-12. Call 323-667-2000 or visit

By Jeff Favre

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