What started as a hobby when Rob Parkin was 10 years old turned into a career crafting unique items and creating lasting memories for countless guests in four decades.
His first job crafting glass was at Disneyland in California, and then he was sent to Disney World to work. “I was there for the grand opening (of the Magic Kingdom theme park) in October of 1971,” he said. Rob continued at the Orlando theme park through 1978, then moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he worked from 1978-82 at the Carowinds theme park. He moved to East Tennessee in 1982 after receiving a call from a friend at Disney. “They needed someone to run the glass shop at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, and I said yes. I met my wife Elaine there; she was a sales person in the glass shop.”
When the World’s Fair concluded in late 1982, Rob and Elaine decided to get married, and Elaine told her husband that a park in nearby Pigeon Forge was looking for craftspeople to work there. “So, I came to Silver Dollar City, and they let me set up a shop for the 1983 season,” Rob recalled. He stayed and was there in 1986 when the park became Dollywood. “Our sales went up 125 percent the first year. We all were not sure how it would go, but it was great. I remember (in the first year) they ran out of Dollywood items to sell.”
This talented host says that he has so many memories of working at Dollywood. “I make Christmas ornaments all this time and have collectors who have very large collections of my ornaments. Some have complete trees with only my ornaments, and I have three generations (of guests) who come back to our shop.”
Rob says he’s made some special items for Dolly over the years and has crafted small butterflies that guests have taken home as special Dollywood keepsakes for the last 35 seasons. “I make about 500-600 a season – you do the math!”
Rob is looking forward to spending more time with his wife and family when he retires from Dollywood at the end of the 2020 season. “Glass artists are a dying breed, but I’ll keep doing glass and other things although I have no ‘official’ plans.” One thing he doesn’t plan to do is leave the Smokies. “I will be here until I die. Why would anyone ever move from Tennessee?”
Our longtime glass artist summed up his Dollywood experience by simply saying, “It has been a great ride.”
If you want to look at Rob’s magnificent glass creations, visit him at his Custom Glassworks Shop beside Granny Ogle’s Ham ‘n’ Beans in Craftsman’s Valley.