Stuart Museum Exhibit Will Put Rhinestone Suits, Cowboy Boots On Display

This appeared in The Tennessean - May 1, 2007

Marty Stuart might be a bona fide country star, but he remains a fan to the core — and a fanatical collector of country music memorabilia. Starting June 6, he'll share his mind-blowingly deep accumulation of artifacts in a Tennessee State Museum exhibit titled Sparkle & Twang: Marty Stuart's American Musical Odyssey.

On a sedate weekday morning, the singer-songwriter-renaissance man was deep in the catacombs of the museum, his personal effects arrayed around him. A clothes rack resplendent with westernwear formerly owned by Porter Wagoner, Mel Tillis and others looked like it might buckle from the weight of the rhinestones. A shiny blue dress once worn by his wife, Connie Smith, sparkled on a clotheshanger. A white-gloved assistant gingerly tended to cowboy boots, guitars, photographs, handwritten lyrics by Hank Williams and countless other precious objects laid out on tables and shelves.

Stuart himself admired some of these objects from afar as a kid, when he'd watch his idols playing on television. Then, as a teenager, he began playing mandolin for bluegrass icon Lester Flatt, and not long after that, his horde of memorabilia began to grow.

"I always had a collection working in my bedroom, that's where all this started," the singer said. But it wasn't until the early 1980s, when country music tried to shed its hillbilly image, that Stuart started collecting in earnest. "When I saw that disappearing into the dust, it saddened me personally. I used to watch Porter Wagoner wear those outfits on TV. I knew every band suit, I knew every guitar."

Stuart started finding rhinestone-studded suits in thrift stores and picking up cast-off objects from his fellow performers wherever he could find them. Now, four decades later, he has enough to, well, fill a museum.

"I'm the ultimate pack rat, I guess," he says with a shrug.

Sparkle and Twang will run through November 11.

By Jonathan Marx

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