July 11, 2009
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417 Magazine

Creating Home

Creating Home
Edward Biamonte
With a big move from Nashville to Branson three years ago, Doris Tillis  has worked hard to create the spirit of her home.

Doris Tillis' home is one in which it's hard to leave, or rather, it's one that feels good to be in. Its warmth is enveloping, and the work put into it has been plentiful. Making it such has been a process since she moved to Branson three years ago. For 32 years she lived in the same Nashville estate. Constantly evolving, that home was never finished, and really that's the way she likes it. Not that the home always appeared incomplete, she was just always letting ideas develop and adding to the ambiance. Homes have spirits, and it's a matter of what you put into it, she says.

The spirit of a home is also made by the inhabitants. Tillis is non-stop, mile-a-minute creativity. It's not just painting or sculpting. She does both of those things, but it's also building, writing, sewing, weaving, digging and molding. When she moved to Branson to be closer to her grown children and grandchildren, her biggest requirement for her future home was that the house have a work space, where, for an hour or two a day, she could retreat to paint or sculpt or satisfy whatever creative indulgence was begging to be let out.

Although Tillis is a mover and shaker in her own right, her name might sound familiar because of the musical crew that gathers around her Thanksgiving table. For 20 years she was married to singer Mel Tillis, during which the couple had five children: Connie Lynn, Cindy, Mel, Jr., Carrie April and Pam. Oldest daughter Pam followed in her father's footsteps and one of her two gold album plaques rests above the fireplace in Tillis' guest bedroom. In addition to the gold, Pam also has had three albums of platinum status. On the 1983 album Above and Beyond the Doll of Cutey, Tillis helped co-write "Love Is Sneakin' Up on You" with Pam. Tillis has written several other songs in which studios have purchased and are keeping in their catalogues for artists. Another of Tillis' daughters, Carrie April, is an opera singer in New York, and her son is a songwriter as well.

a sunken bath tub When Tillis talks of her former home in Nashville, she has stories of two treehouses, an Olympic-sized pool and a 3,000-volume library. She downsized considerably when it came to moving into her five-acre, four-bedroom Branson home. She purchased it halfway through the building process, which allowed her to make a few changes to the plan, but mainly she got to choose the finishing details such as cabinetry and floors. Marty Foltz was the builder, and Lee Milam of Creative Building Design was the designing architect.

Wood flooring runs throughout the home, with the exception of the carpet upstairs and the linoleum in her bonus room above the garage, which serves as a workspace where she indulges her creative side. The walls in her studio are covered all the way up to the vaulted ceiling with paintings. The closet is full of hundreds of paintings. There are portraits of family, depictions of flowers and trees and birds. She has acrylic paintings, watercolor and some with a combination of bits of paper and paint. "I'm the visual artist," Tillis says. "When I was a little girl, I would mash up berries and paint pictures." She calls her work a mixture of abstract and traditional.

Hanging from the ceiling are wrapping-paper kites that she made with her grandchildren. She really doesn't see anything as trash. Everything can be made into art. She has created papier-mâché chickens and cows from milk jugs. With shreds of shed tire, Tillis has made pictures of characters on pieces of old wooden boards. There are self-carved stamps, and many cross-stitched pieces of fabric. Tillis doesn't have one hobby; she has 80. "You have to keep moving with your energy," she says. She has thought about opening a store for all of her creations, but at her age, she says she'd rather be creating than bogged down with a business. There are only so many hours in the day. One of her workroom tables holds a nine-inch tall stone sculpture that won her the Curry Award at the Watkins Institute in Nashville.

Tillis has taken innumerable classes through the years, and it all started when her son, who is now 39, was a boy. She wanted to capture a moment when the 5-year-old was playing in the backyard. She grabbed a pencil and paper and began to sketch. Having never really drawn or painted before, she was inspired by this moment and sought out a drawing class, which led to classes in painting, interior design, architecture, sculpture and more. "I've so missed art school being in the Ozarks," Tillis says. "I haven't found anything like the community in Nashville."

Tillis was born in 1941 in Plant City, Florida. In 1957 she married Mel, and moved to Nashville. "I got married at 16," Tillis says. "Sixteen. That sounds ridiculous. Nobody gets married at 16 anymore. But, I got married at 16."

She is blonde, well put-together and does seem to be following where her energy takes her. Today, she is a grandmother of six, and not looking to slow down anytime. A portrait she painted of herself and her grandson in a cherry tree hangs above the fireplace in her hearth room. The furniture in the room is coordinated, but nothing except the sofa and the love seat is the same. The end table is a wooden box that she calls an art cube. Wanting something she could view from all sides, Tillis built and painted these boxes. This particular art cube has a rooster on its sides, but the others in the house are each different. Rather than looking makeshift and homemade, the lively additions such as the art cube to her home look quite professional. She also made the wimple chairs at her kitchen table. The seat of these chairs is made of woven pieces of fabric. There are several patterns of the fabric on each chair, but the colors are always the same with varying shades. Most of her rooms are like the hearth room. There are many patterns, coordinating colors and homemade objects. But the house does not feel cluttered. It's fresh and bright, yet it has an antique touch. Buyers for a boutique like Anthropologie would have a field day in Tillis' house.

She donated a majority of her books to St. Jude's before she moved, but the bookshelves in her formal living room and her master bedroom are both still filled. There are old encyclopedias and books of antique-nature, and then there are others that she's picked up recently to satisfy her curiosity. While perusing a bookstore one day, she came upon a feng shui manual and has been hooked since. "I had my nose buried in that book," Tillis says. "You'd see me in the middle of the night pushing a piano across the house. I'm doing everything now. I'll be in a room and say, 'Okay, how's the chi in this area?'"   

Tillis is currently working on completing a set of earthenware dishes. Some of the cups, bowls and plates she created on the wheel, and others were built by hand. Tillis also wrote the children's book Rudy the Rabbit, which her daughter Carrie April illustrated. She cooks (fried chicken with lots of vegetables is her favorite meal) and mows one and a half acres of her yard. She has built two fish ponds behind her house and does all of the gardening and landscaping. "I don't like to weed-eater, but I love to be outside," she says. "I feel alive whenever I'm out there doing it. It makes me hungry, and so I come in and cook a big meal."

Her home's exterior is brick, and two red double doors greet visitors. She was the first to move in on her block, and now there are houses on either side of her. She calls herself a pioneer. She loves the natural surroundings, but has considered selling the house and starting all over again. It's a lot of work to make a home, but she loves to create and thinks it might just be fun.

Reader Comments:
Nov 5, 2008 09:15 am
 Posted by  Larry Timmons

Hi Doris, I just read your story and it sound real interesting, Branson is great town, to live in, I sure miss coming down and going to the shows. I don't get down there, as much, as I did, but I still come Branson, it feel like home. Even time I did come down, Mel and Pam was the one I would see. Know matter, how many time, I seen there show, they always made feel like part of your family. Pam and I are the same age, I think she is most wonderful lady, I have ever met. I hope my friendship with Pam, will last a long time. You take care and keep up the good work.

Larry Timmons

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