I’m a big fan of Craftsman’s Valley. It’s that feeling of stepping back in time, but being right at home at the same time. This paradox engulfs me every time. I love the Grist Mill. I love the older buildings. I love watching the artisans create their crafts by hand.
There is someone who fits right in to Craftsman’s Valley perfectly – Dollywood Host and Leatherworker, Glenn Donly.
I found out that Glenn is retiring after 32 years at Smoky Creek Leather in Craftsman’s Valley, and I know his skills will be something special to pass down. A skill set like leathermaking is something I want my son to still experience at Dollywood 32 years from now. I think Glenn is leaving us in good hands.
I spoke to Glenn and quickly found out his ties to Dollywood are pretty strong. His father helped build the Grist Mill! He told me, “My dad worked here. He helped build the Grist Mill. In 1988, he told me he saw in the newspaper that Dollywood was hiring. They had an opening in their warehouse and I started there.”
After two years, Glenn heard there was an opening with the leather shop. He inquired about the job and was asked, “Do you know anything about leather?” Glenn replied, “I know it comes off cows, but that’s about it.”
He got the job.
From that point on, Glenn dug in and learned quickly what it takes to make a real leather belt. “I made it a personal goal to make 50 belts a week,” he said. When asked how many belts he has made during his tenure, Glenn said, “Thousands!” He added that his belts have been purchased by visitors from all over the world.
Glenn starts with a piece of leather – REAL leather – called a “Double Shoulder” and from that large piece, cuts a strip that will become a belt.
From there, Glenn can design a belt any way a guest wants. There are dozens of animal stamps, letters and other designs that can be stamped into the leather. The designs are limitless.
Glenn enjoys a good joke but he loves to pass on leather knowledge. If you’ve never seen a braided leather belt, he will show you just how it works.
What’s the best way to keep your leather belt fresh and long-wearing? The sun and Vaseline. Glenn says to coat the belt in Vaseline, let the sun heat it for a few hours, wipe it off and you’ve just resealed the leather.
I asked Glenn about making belts in front of guests and he said he enjoys it. “It really means something when kids show an interest in what we do.” He went on to say that he hopes the belt making continues. “These are quality products that we guarantee for life.”
What is Dollywood’s lifetime guarantee for belts?
- A leatherworker will re-polish your Dollywood belt
- They will punch additional holes if you grow
- And, they will replace the belt if it’s torn – but not if your dog chewed it!
If you’ve purchased a belt at Dollywood and think it needs a shine, bring it in. They will be happy to do it!
Because Glenn has a soft spot for the children who are interested in his work, they sometimes find themselves with a little keepsake – a leather Dollywood butterfly!
The next time you’re in Craftsman’s Valley, check out Smoky Creek Leather. You can watch your own belt being made or buy some scrap leather in the shop for the perfect keepsake. Hello, Christmas ornament!
Glenn has certainly stamped his legacy in the books of Dollywood.