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|OPPORTUNITY VILLAGE AND ELVIS
June 05, 2016 - Las Vegas Journal Review / Elvis Express Radio
It’s been a long time since The King walked the stage of the International Hotel, where he set multiple attendance records, sang, shook and, in a memorable bit of stage shtick,
wiped his brow with, kissed and then passed out to female fans brightly colored scarves.
But things change. Elvis isn’t around anymore and the International Hotel became the Las Vegas Hilton and, eventually, the Westgate Las Vegas.
But those scarves? They’re still here, thanks to Opportunity Village, the Las Vegas nonprofit organization that, back in the day, made those scarves that Elvis would pass out
during his shows.
Opportunity Village continues to make similar scarves today, both as a tribute to its long association with Elvis and to raise money for its programs that assist Southern Nevadans
with intellectual disabilities.
And even if today’s scarves haven’t been kissed by The King, they still can evoke a bit of Las Vegas’ colorful past.
Each of the 100 percent silk scarves is designed and hand-painted by a client of Opportunity Village, whose name and bio appears on each one. The scarves can be online (www.
opportunityvillage.org/collections/scarves-ties) or in the gift shop at Opportunity Village’s Engelstad campus, 6050 S. Buffalo Drive.
The scarves begin at $20, are of various widths and lengths, and, for most people, are indistinguishable from scarves that shoppers would find in department stores. The story
behind them is just as colorful as the stripes, swirls and swatches that appear on them.
It begins, says Linda Smith, Opportunity Village’s senior executive vice president, right around the time that Elvis began performing at the International Hotel in 1969.
Opportunity Village, founded in 1954, already had built up an enviable track record around town and boasted several movers and shakers on its board. Colonel Tom Parker,
Presley’s manager, became aware of Opportunity Village’s work and, Smith says, “contracted with us to make Elvis’ scarves.”
Smith has no idea how many scarves Opportunity Village would provide to Elvis during his career, but guesses the number to be in the thousands. And because Presley would kiss
the scarves before bestowing them on fans, the artists at Opportunity Village would kiss their scarves before sending them along to Elvis, “hoping that he would then kiss the same
spot,” Smith says.
“The scarves were sent to Elvis all around the world,” adds Smith, who likes telling fans that, if they’re lucky enough to have one of those vintage-era scarves, “you have Elvis’
DNA, but you also have ours.”
“The fun thing for our people is, they knew they were working for Elvis Presley and they were very proud of that,” Smith says.
According to Smith, the association between Opportunity Village and Elvis Presley continued until Aug. 16, 1977, the day Elvis died.
“Then, the other interesting thing is that we started making scarves for Elvis impersonators,” Smith says, as well as for a list of enterainers that has included Engelbert
Humperdinck and Carlos Santana. In 2013, Penn Jillette introduced Opportunity Village and its Elvis scarves to TV viewers through his appearances on “Celebrity Apprentice,”
which, Smith says, caused Opportunity Village to be “inundated with orders.”
Today, Opportunity Village’s scarves join its “OV Elvi” dance troupe as means of celebrating the link between the nonprofit and one of its most legendary supporters.
The scarves are created in a busy studio at Opportunity Village’s Engelstad campus. Each begins as a swatch of undyed silk that’s washed, dried and stretched on a wooden
frame. Then, using paintbrushes and a few other artistic techniques, Opportunity Village’s artist/clients apply dyes to the fabric, creating a design that’s all theirs that can range
from merging pastel hues to stark stripes to faces and figures.
On a recent morning, artist/client Chantale, who has been creating scarves at Opportunity Village for about two years, is using paintbrushes to make a row of flowers appear on a
What is she painting? “Daisies,” Chantale answers.
Does she have anything that she particularly likes to paint? “Daisies,” Chantale says.
Nearby, artist/client Kaitlyn, who has been creating scarves for just a few weeks, also is working in a flower motif, carefully placing squeeze-bottle drops of yellow, green and red
coloring on a 35-by-35 inch scarf that, when completed and folded over on itself, will take more the form of a shawl.
“I just love the way she’s being real careful and doesn’t smudge it,” art mentor Heather Pyle says.
Opportunity Village’s artist/clients also create such items as wall hangings, T-shirts, framed prints and other forms of fabric art. Pyle says the agency’s staff of scarf artists typically
can create as many as 20 scarves a week, and that that the artists even can create custom scarves if given a few weeks’ lead time.
“One of the things I like is, for the most part, they’re not afraid to try new things,” Pyle says. “They don’t have the censor we have that says, ‘That’s not good.’
“I love it that they’re very courageous. They’re not afraid to make a mistake. We’ll just do the best we can to fix (a mistake) and, often, it comes out better because of the mistake.”
Pyle says she encourages artists to follow their artistic inclinations. As proof that that’s true, just check out the scarf in the gift shop that appears to be a tribute to the rock band
But, because the scarves are meant to be sold — artists receive half of their works’ purchase price — Pyle does offer suggestions about, for instance, themes and color choices
that potential buyers might find attractive.
She recalls one buyer, for instance, who “loves her stripes, and those are really in. She came in and got two scarves because they’re in fashion, they’re in magazines, and she
really liked the idea of the stripes.”