CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — An East Tennessee artist combines her love of Dolly Parton and creativity to craft a crown she dons at Dollywood. JJ Barrows is most herself while covered in craft supplies. Her art studio in her Chattanooga home is filled to the gills with glitter, paint and pom poms.
"When I can't find the words to express myself, I'm creating, I'm painting, I'm getting it out," Barrows said.
Barrows is an artist, author and comedian.
"I wear a lot of hats," Barrows said. "I make some of them, but I also just wear some."
One of her favorite "hats," though, is an ode to East Tennessee's favorite songbird. It's called a Dolly Carton, because two egg carton pieces are fastened to the front of Dolly's chest.
The crowns were first cultivated from curiosity.
"I just looked at the bottom of my egg cartons one day," Barrows said. "I just looked at them laying there upside down one day and I was like, 'Dolly Parton!'"
Barrows and her husband moved from California to Chattanooga not long ago. It wasn't long before they decided they wanted to make one of the biggest commitments they could make in their marriage: getting Dollywood season passes.
"I kind of joked I went from Hollywood to Dollywood," Barrows said.
Now, this passholder wears the well-rounded work of art with pride to the queen's theme park in Sevier County.
"People always like to comment on them when you wear them in public or for any kind of like fun event," Barrows said. "It's so fun."
With each paint stroke, pipe cleaner and pom-pom, she finds her purpose.
"At a certain point in life, it came really important for me to let who I am out and show up instead of trying to continue to conform to who I thought I was supposed to be or who other people wanted me to be," Barrows said.
That's why she admires the busty blueprint, who has paved the way for so many others to embrace who they are.
"She's just an inspiring individual for being yourself, being true to yourself, showing up as yourself, not apologizing for who you are," Barrows said.
This artist is finding the masterpiece in the mess, with the musician's help.
"Life is hard and beautiful, and you have way more freedom than you think or know to show up as yourself," Barrows said.
Barrows wears a lot of hats, and she'll never stop creating new ones.
You can make your own Dolly Cartons at home. Linked here is a video showing you how to make the craft using basic art supplies.
You can also order products from Barrows on Etsy.
For Barrows' comedic side, she will be hosting a fundraiser comedy show on December 15 at the Comedy Catch in Chattanooga. It's all to support Meals on Wheels.