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nashville public art

Nashville murals, street art, graffiti, signs, sculptures and more

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Damaged art

Colors of Creativity

Sanger Mural Nashville street art

A few weeks ago, I posted about a graffiti mural by Troy Duff, aka Duffomatic. Duff did that work as part of the 2018 “Hands on Creativity” festival sponsored by Plaza Art. You can see a small piece of it in the background of the picture above. This second mural was also part of that festival. Plaza Art ran a contest in which students from Watkins College of Art competed for the right to do this second mural, which was won by Maggie Sanger. She produced her mural at the same time Duff was making his (the last week of October, 2018) and had help from Dough Joe, aka Yusef Hubb. Of course, this is a moment to remember that in just a couple of months, Watkins will merge with Belmont University. Students and faculty were largely unhappy with this move, and tried to stop it, but to no avail. Watkins has been around for more than a century, and its loss is a sad one for Nashville. Its legacy is its students, like Sanger.

Located at 621 Middleton Street. Nearby parking is easy. The mural is on the west side of the building, facing Plaza Arts.

Black Lives Matter

It’s no secret that the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers has sparked a massive protest movement here in America and around the world. Not surprisingly, it has produced art. Perhaps the most widely shared example is a mural in Minneapolis done by Cadex Herrera, Greta McLain, Xena Goldman, Rachel Breen, Niko Alexander, Maria Javier, and Pablo Helm Hernandez. While I would not be surprised if there are others in Nashville, this one at the damaged Jerry’s Artarama on Main (above) and a similar one at Cobra Bar on Gallatin are the only ones I know of in Nashville at this time. I suspect others will emerge if they haven’t already.

This one is obviously temporary, as it is painted on boards covering a window blown out by the March 3rd tornado. Of course, my last post was about another mural on Jerry’s Artarama, but I feel this one is timely, and as construction is already getting started next door and a large disposal unit you see at construction sites has appeared just to the side of this mural, I thought it important to document it now. I also try really hard to credit artists, but this one is unsigned, and I suspect it is anonymous for a reason.

The happy-style letters belie the seriousness of the topic at hand. In my main work, I am a history professor, not an art blogger. I do not know why this particular incident has generated the enormous energy and the wave of protests that it has, while others like it before did not. My future colleagues will spend a lot of time sorting that out. Some reasons seem obvious, but one thing you learn in history, the obvious answers aren’t always right, or they may not be as important as they look. What history-minded people like me can do is document everything, so the full story can eventually be told. Already, the Smithsonian is collecting signs plastered to the fence around the White House so they will be available to researchers and the public in the future.

Below is a shot giving you some idea of how the piece fits with everything else on the wall. I took it at this odd angle because of the placement of the disposal unit. In it, you see murals by Andee Rudloff and Herb Williams, and the remnants of an older mural by Hannah Holgate and Marshall Hall that was severely damaged by the tornado.

BLM mural sign Nashville street art

Located at 713 Main Street. For now, the parking lot in front of Jerry’s Artarama is available, but once this becomes a construction site, that’s unlikely. The nearest street parking is towards downtown on Seventh Street North.

 

Williams Salvage Company

Williams Salvage Sign mural Nashville street art

If you stand at the bottom of the west (Downtown) side of the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge and turn towards Lower Broad, you should be able to see this faded sign off to your left. It’s at the back end of a gray-green brick building that lies at 127 Third Avenue South, across the street from the Nashville branch of Big Machine Vodka. As of this posting, the building is empty with a big “Available” sign. I’ve known of the faded sign above for some time, but it has frustrated me. The red lettering is so faded, I could only confidently read “Salvage” in the middle, maybe “Company” to the right. But what salvage company? There are of course old city directories at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, but by the time I thought to do that, COVID has closed everything.

But then I stumbled on this blog post from Brentwood Interiors, which used to be called “The Salvage Store” and was located not in Brentwood, but a couple doors down from the gray-green brick building with the mysterious sign. In it, they mention a collection of salvage and interior goods stores that used to line both sides of this stretch of Third Avenue, from the 1950s into the 1990s. One name they mentioned was “Williams Salvage Company.” Now, while it doesn’t look much like “Williams” would quite fit in front of “Salvage” on this sign (maybe it was abbreviated), it doesn’t take much internet sleuthing to find that yes, Williams Salvage Company was long at 127 Third Avenue South. In this picture, you can see it used to say “Williams Salvage Co.” in bold letters on the front of the building. That sign got painted over, but you can still barely make it out.

I’m not sure when Williams Salvage closed. I do know that when Hastings Architecture bought the building in 2002, it was referred to by the Nashville Business Journal as “the old Williams Salvage building.” (Hastings has long since moved on.) These old sings are disappearing. Relics of a different era, they remind of us of a Nashville long gone. I hope whoever moves in leaves the faded Williams Salvage Company sign in place.

Located at, you guessed it, 127 Third Avenue South. The sign is on the south side of the building, overlooking a parking lot. This is downtown, so lots of parking, almost none of it free. Hint: On the other side of the pedestrian bridge, there’s still some free parking for Cumberland Park.

We Are Nashville – Main Street

The best view of the We Are Nashville installation at 916 Main Street is where the Holleman Transmission building used to stand. It was taken down by bulldozers, in preparation for new development. But the photographic mural features the staff of the local fashion line Molly Green, whose Main Street branch once stood next door to Holleman, and which was almost completely destroyed by the March 3 tornado. We Are Nashville is an anonymous collaborative that for the last two years has been documenting who Nashville is today. They have begun to put up wheat-paste installations of the resulting photographs, with QR codes that lead to their website where you can learn the stories behind the images. The start of their campaign to present these photos and stories to the city coincided with the tornado and its aftermath, so it makes sense that some of the early installations are about the people and stories of the storm.

Three stories are part of this particular installation – the destruction of Molly Green, the damage to a historic home in Donelson and its surrounding neighborhood, and the aftermath of the storm in North Nashville and Germantown.

In the center and the far left, we see the people of Molly Green, standing in the ruins of their Main Street store.

We Are Nashville mural street art
From left, Brandon Hartwell, Proprietor; Kelsey Wells, Web and Social Director; Brittany Hartwell, Proprietor; Heather Johns, Visual Merchandising Director; Jessica Lanier, Store Manager; and Mary Lokey, Stylist.

If you were to stand where the photographer stood now, you would see the mural to your direct right, as the Molly Green building has been leveled.

The left side of the mural includes a closeup portrait of Molly Green staffer Heather Johns, but it’s mostly is a portrait of ten-year-old London outside her great-grandfather’s home, David Young Sr. Parts of the home date back to 1870, and if you click on the Donelson story above you’ll see it was more damaged than it appears in this photo.

WAN Molly Green Left

On the right side, we see an image from the immediate aftermath of the tornado in North Nashville. Here, parishioners of the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church on Monroe Street pray together after the storm, their badly damaged church in the background. (The We Are Nashville site does not identify the young man featured in the photo.) This same image is part of an installation at the largely destroyed Music City Cleaners building at Jefferson and 7th.

 We Are Nashville mural street art

A little ways away, about where I stood when I took the photo at the bottom of this post, there are three smaller portraits of Molly Green staffers. They are on the backside of Attaboy. The only deaths recorded in Davidson County from the March 3 storm were of two people who left Attaboy just as the tornado was approaching.

We Are Nashville mural street art
From left, Mary Lokey, Stylist; Heather Johns, Visual Merchandising Director; Jessica Lanier, Store Manager; and Brandon Hartwell, Proprietor.

These are obviously all temporary. Wheat-paste murals don’t tend to have a long shelf life. Like the recent also temporary installation at Jerry’s Artarama a few blocks away, they both memorialize the damage suffered from the storm as well as highlight the strength of Nashville as a community. There is something else about them that speaks to the temporary nature of all art. Just below the four portraits above stands the only remaining fragment of the largest work of art destroyed by the March 3 storm, the wrap-around mural by Eastside Murals that once covered all of Molly Green.

We Are Nashville mural street art

The photographs of the main mural also cover up an old graffiti mural by the UH Crew. You can see some of the process of the mural’s installation on We Are Nashville’s website.

Located at 916 Main Street. The mural faces east, away from downtown, towards McFerrin Avenue. There is street parking on McFerrin on both sides of Main Street.

The Founding of Nashville

Historic statues, like any way of telling history, always come with a point of view. This statue commemorates the moment that two founders of Nashville, James Robertson and John Donelson, reunited on approximately the very spot the sculpture sits, and clearly represents it as a noble if somber moment. In the middle of the American Revolution, Roberston (shown with an ax over his shoulder) and Donelson (shown with a rifle) were part of a group of colonists who sought to settle along the Cumberland River. In late 1779, Roberston traveled by land from what is now Kingsport, TN with a group of about 200 men. They chose a site known as French Lick to build Fort Nashborough. Donelson came by river with a large group that included families, arriving on April 24, 1780. It’s entirely plausible that Roberston and Donelson shook hands that day. Of course, what the statue doesn’t really address is the Cherokee who lived on this land. Well, the large plaque beneath the two men which tells the story of the founding does mention how Donelson overcame “savage Indians” in his journey downriver. There is a faded “YOU THIEF” underneath Donelson as viewed from behind him. Commentary? (See the slideshow below.) The text of the main plaque also mentions the Cumberland Compact, the “constitution” of the settlers. The large plaque in front of the statue lists the signers of the compact.

Cumberland Compact sculpture Nashville street art

The work was commissioned by Mayor Ben West, who may be best remembered today for a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights movement in Nashville when he agreed with student leader Diane Nash that discrimination based on color was wrong. It was done by Thomas Puryear Mims, who was a professor and artist-in-residence at Vanderbilt University, and was installed in 1963. Mims did a number of other sculptures around town, though this is the first one I’ve discussed on this blog.

A recent report by Metro Arts on the condition of Metro-owned art rates the condition of the work as poor and places the need for repairs at a high priority (see page 25). You can see some of that in these pictures, including the staining on the bronze and the damage to the pedestal. This sculpture is also protected by the Tennesee Heritage Protection Act, a bill designed to protect Confederate monuments from being taken down, but which applies to all publicly owned historic monuments. To my knowledge, there are no monuments in Nashville to Dragging Canoe, a Cherokee leader who fought against settlers moving into Cherokee lands, including an attack on Forth Nashborough in 1781.

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Located on the 200 block of First Avenue South, a little south of Church Street. This is downtown, so lots of parking, very little of it free.

Memories of Lower Broad’s Past

It’s faded, and it’s flaked a bit. But the mural of a street more in keeping with New Orleans than Nashville is looking pretty good for its age. For this mural on the side of the building currently housing Nudie’s Honky Tonk has been greeting revelers on Lower Broad since 1993. Of course, in 1993, Lower Broad was a very different place than the tourist mecca it is today. The bars were a little seedier, and where Layla’s is now there was an Adult World. The 1993 date also means this mural ties with the mural at Chromatics as the second oldest mural in town. That I know of, only the renovated painter man at Hard Hock Cafe is older. In Printer’s Alley, on the side of Bourbon Sreet Blues, there’s a remnant of a mural that may be from the same artist and time period.

Nudie's Mural street Art Nashville

Who that artist is is unclear. The mural is signed, right by the lampost at the end with the horse and buggy. It reads, “B. Hedrick.” I have not been able to pin down who this is, but I’m going to continue to research it. That I was able to take these pictures at all is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, as this lot is some of the only parking on Lower Broad, there are lots of cars here. But after videos of crowds partying in Nashville drew criticism from around the world, Nashville Mayor Jim Cooper called on the bars and restaurants in the district to close or restrict seating. Some refused to comply, but by Monday afternoon, the crowds on Lower Broad were notably smaller. It’s a tough situation, as a lot of employees are going without paychecks, but it’s also important to fight the spread of this disease.

Nudie's Mural street Art Nashville

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Located at 409 Broadway. The mural faces east, towards the river. Even if you are willing to pay, parking nearby is hard. Expect to walk a bit, or catch a ride. Once the crowds come back, your best bet to see it is early in the morning, particularly on weekends, when there will be fewer cars.

Storm damage, Germantown and North Nashville

Early Tuesday morning, March 3, 2020, a powerful tornado touched down at the John C. Thune Airport and the tore through North Nashville, going parallel to Jefferson Street but a little north, then ripped through the southern part of Germantown, jumped the river and tore down Main Street and through Lockeland Springs and beyond. In “What we lost in the storm” I chronicled as best I could what outdoor art had been lost and damaged in East Nashville. On Thursday I had an opportunity to explore Germantown and North Nashville, including the Jefferson and Buchanan Street corridors.

I was deeply concerned that these art rich neighborhoods would also have seen many losses, as I knew from reporting that the general destruction was similar to Main Street and Five Points, where much of the damaged art in East Nashville is found. I am very happy to report that this is not the case. With a couple of minor and one serious exception, all concerning pieces I have never blogged about before, the outdoor art of Gernamntown and North Nashville escaped the ravages of the tornado.

Above, you can see a blue tarp on the wall of the Christie Cookie Company building at Third Ave North and Madison Street. It covers an area where the bricks peeled off the wall. When I saw it on Thursday, there were already workers repairing the building (hence the Port-a-Pottie). I don’t know what it will take to repair the wall, but I have little doubt that Christie Cookie will replace the sign if repairs require it to be destroyed. I know that both Seth Prestwood and Eastside Murals have done versions (scroll down) of this sign, but Christie only shows a couple of tiny pictures of the artist who did this one. Failure to credit sign makers is a common error of companies large and small.

At Green Fleet Bikes, located at 934 Jefferson Street, their mural by Dough Joe is fine, but the tornado smashed the welded sculpture of junk bikes the graces the yard. To my, surprise, I never photographed it when it was intact. These two clips from Google Street View give you a sense of what it looked like in April 2019, though I believe it had been added to since and was larger than what you see here.

When I talked to Green Fleet’s owner as he and staff cleaned up the debris from the storm, he told me passers-by thought the smashed up version of the sculpture was all their good bikes mangled up and crushed together by the storm! The original was done by an artist who the owner could only describe as “an artist from Wedgewood-Houston” and had been added on to by staff overtime. The bus in the background, painted by  Andee Rudloff, survived the storm unscathed.

Bike Sculpture street art Nashville tornado

The greatest loss in outdoor art on the west side of the river is the loss of the R&R Liquor Store sign. R & R Liquor, located a little over a block from Green Fleet at 1034 Jefferson Street, had a decades-old three-dimensional sign not unlike the one at  Weiss Liquor on Main Street that was also lost. Nashville’s inventory of this style of sign continues to shrink. No doubt they are expensive to make and replace. Again, I never took a picture of it intact, so I include here a picture clipped from Google Street View.

We can be grateful that the art-rich neighborhoods of Germantown and North Nashville did not lose more, but of course, the damage to people’s homes and businesses was still tremendous. Nashville has a long way to go to rebuild. I know this town, and I know art and artists will play a key role in that rebuilding.

 

 

 

What we lost in the storm

 

In Nashville, and communities to the east, homes and businesses have been shattered and destroyed, lives lost. Much of what has been broken will take months to rebuild, if ever. Families without homes, employees without paychecks. In the face of that, what’s a little art?

In the last few years, there has been a mural renaissance in Nashville, and it’s been my honor to chronicle it. Arguably, it really started in East Nashville over four years ago, with Chamber East doing much to cajole eastside businesses to take a chance on art. And many ultimately did, so many that the east side, from Fifth and Main to well up Gallatin Road, became the most art dense neighborhood in Nashville. Art is part of this neighborhood’s identity. So when a tornado plowed down Main and through Five Points and beyond very early Tuesday morning, it inevitably took a lot of art with it.

One image more than any other has been the symbol of the tornado damage, Basement’s East’s fallen wall of concert murals with its still intact version of the I Believe in Nashville mural (based on a design by Adrien Saporiti of DCXV Industries). A simple image that speaks to the neighborhood’s musical heritage and its enduring strength.

Basement East mural street art Nashville tornado

Other losses attracted fewer news cameras, but were still quite devastating. This pile of painted concrete blocks is all that’s left of the murals that once wrapped around Hunt Supply Co., a skateboard gear supplier whose building completely collapsed.

Hunt Supply mural rubble

Before the storm, it looked like this:

Hunt Supply Mural street art Nashville

Hunt Supply and Gold Electric Tattoo across the alley are something of neighborhood secrets. You need to know to walk up the alley behind Beyond the Edge to find them, or what’s left of them now. The front side of Gold Electric once had a really fun mural, now shattered in the wake of the storm.

I never blogged about it, nor learned the artist, because I was waiting to get a “clean” picture of the other Gold Electric mural, a memorial to founder Mike Fite. Employee cars were always parked in front of it. Sadly, on the night of the tornado, one was still there and was seriously damaged.

Fite memorial mural street art Nashville tornado

Not so secret was the “Do the Dew” mural by Eastside Murals on the old Family Dollar, just steps away from Gold Electric Tattoo. The building was probably slated for demolition and “mixed-use” development, but it was still a shock to see such a bright and colorful wall collapse, along with the rest of the building. Look close at the rubble and you can see a section of the mural. 

Eastside Murals also created the largest mural that was lost to the tornado. Molly Green at McFerrin was a total loss, the building left in ruins, the ice-cream-colored walls painted by Eastside reduced to rubble.

The alley between Main and Woodland has also been for some time a place filled with art. Almost all of it is by the UH graffiti crew. It included well-made graffiti tags, trippy caricatures, and even a surreal sky. The surreal sky, which I dubbed “Panda Sky,” had already been damaged by construction, but now just a slip of it is left. The hypnotic “Under Hypnosis,” of which the word “under” has collapsed, is by the artist Sterbo.

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One of the most devastating losses is a work that first appeared on this blog in a piece called “A True Survivor.” No, it’s not a mural, but it’s still a work of art that has been part of the eastside’s image for decades. The Weiss Liquor sign crumbled in the storm and with it a lot of history.

Right behind this building is another piece I never got around to blogging about, in part because it had been partially painted over by another piece I’ve only tangentially blogged about, the giant concert mural by Jason Galaz on the back of Crying Wolf. A fence painted by someone who’s signature I never figured out was partially painted over with a list of concert performers by Galaz. Regardless, the fence collapsed.

A more total loss was a large piece of art about art. The facade of Jerry’s Aratama had been covered in art by Hannah Holgate and Marshall Hall, right down to the parking lot itself. The parking lot art is fine, including the signs, but the facade of the building collapsed, largely destroying the mural.

Two more total losses are found in the alley behind Smith and Lentz Brewing. There was a lovely, bizarre fence by Andee Rudloff and Max Grimm that belonged to the house behind Smith and Lentz. Only a single post remained when I checked on it Wednesday. And on the backside of Smith and Lentz was another Eastside Murals piece I never blogged about, I think because it didn’t seem too public behind the bar’s fence, now ripped down by the storm. You can see what it looked like intact on Eastside’s Instagram page.

The featured mural of the eagle at the start of this post is by  Kim Radford and lies on the east wall of Elite Bonding. I never got around to writing about it because I was saving it for a patriotic holiday. (While it’s relatively intact, the work Radford did on the other side of the building is largely gone, the wall having collapsed. Here’s what the eagle looked like undamaged.) I suppose there’s a lesson to be learned about impermanence and not assuming everything will always be what you expect. Another example of this is the East Nashville “EN” murals, which are sponsored by Chamber East. I’ve never put one on the blog for some reason. The one by Troy Duff at Burger Up is intact, but given the state of the building, it’s hard to say if it will last.

East Nashville Burger Up

Tuesday, after the storm, I had more visitors to this site than I’m used to. People wanted to know what it all used to look like, to see what had been lost, to remember what things that had been broken looked like when they were intact. If you want to help artists who have been hurt by the storm, start here. Here is a page with more general information about volunteering and donating for tornado relief.

East Nashville will rebuild, it will prosper, thought scars will remain. And I predict that Nashville’s artists will be in the thick of it.

G.P. Rose & Co.

This may at first just appear to be a picture of an old brick building, found on 8th Ave South just south of the railroad bridge, a building which until recently housed the Downtown Antique Mall. Look closer though, and a faded set of signs emerges. Damage on the taller part of the building has erased part of the original sign, and banners, one for the departed antique mall, one advertising the building for lease, hide much of the long thin signs down the length of the building.  (There’s a clip from Google Street View below that doesn’t have the leasing sign.) They advertise a firm that was called G.P. Rose & Co. According to the 1919 edition of  Grain and Farm Service Centers, Vol 43 (scroll down to the bottom of page 1143, the linked page) G.P Rose & Co. was founded in 1884, the successor to Smith & Rose. The company featured direct access to the L & N and the N.C. & St. Louis Railroads (there are still tracks behind the building, and rail traffic still passes by regularly) and was powered by three 35 h.p G.E. engines (in 1919, anyway). There were two buildings at the time that could hold a total of 95 thousand bushels and handled wheat, oats rye, field seeds, and cowpeas. As the signs on the building say twice, “A Feed for Every Breed.” It’s quite conceivable the sign goes back to 1884. If so, it would have been originally painted 136 years ago. It’s also possible the sign is somewhat younger or was substantially altered at some point – being sure will take more research. But it’s very likely to be one of the oldest painted signs in Nashville, if not the very oldest. Nashville was a much smaller place back then, as can be seen from the 1889 G.M. Hopkins Atlas of Nashville, and there aren’t many candidates left. For instance, you can see a few faded letters high up on 423 Broadway, present home of the downtown version of Mellow Mushroom, which seem to read “—WELL BROS & Co” that may be from the late 19th century, but that’s about it for Lower Broad and its cross streets. The 1889 Hopkins Atlas also explicitly shows G.P Rose, though back then 8th Ave was called Spruce Street (see the excerpt below). I also found on eBay a collection notice signed by Mr. G.P. Rose himself, dated April 29th, 1885 (which I bought!) – you’ll find it at the bottom. It would be really nice if this sign was spruced up. That will likely depend on the building’s next tenant, assuming it’s not torn down.

GP Rose sign street art Nashville

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Located at 606 Eighth Ave South. It’s possible to park for a while in the space just south of the building, between it and Norris Architecture next door. Otherwise, you’ll need to park on the other side of 8th Ave.

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