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

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Riding!

Tucked away on the back side of Block E of the massive Capitol View project is this charming mural of a kid on a trike by Music City Murals. Though sort of hidden in an alleyway between the building and a raised railway track, the subject is appropriate, for there’s a short tunnel just across the alley that leads to Frankie Pierce Park, a green space that includes a children’s playground that was built as a public-private partnership between Capitol View and Metro ParksPierce was a civil rights activist who played an important part in the women’s suffrage movement in Nashville. The mural is one of three that Music City Murals has done for Capitol View, the other two in much more visible places. They’ll be on the blog soon. The hardest part of researching this (since I already knew who had done this unsigned mural) was working out exactly where it is on a map. Google Maps, as of this publication, has still not fully incorporated this relatively new development project. Google wants you to believe this patch of land is on the border between “North Gulch” (ugh) and Hope Gardens, but long-time locals know that it’s Hells Half-Acre.

Tricycle Kid mural Nashville street art

Located at 500 11th Avenue North. That’s the address of Block E of the Capitol View development, the building the mural is located on. The mural is found in an ally/driveway that separates Block E from the raised railroad that lies to the east, in the direction of the Capitol. The alley runs between Nelson Merry Street and LifeWay Plaza. The mural faces south, towards Nelson Merry, and is about in the middle of the block. There is plenty of parking available in the complex’s garages.

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.

Little Jimmy Dickens

As he was a long-time stalwart of the Grand Ole Opry, it makes sense to find a life-size sculpture of Little Jimmy Dickens right in the center of the plaza in front of the entrance to the Ryman Auditorium, the Opry’s long-time former home. It’s actually fairly new. It and a statue of Bill Monroe nearby were unveiled on June 7, 2017. Both are by the Mississippi sculptor Ben Watts. (I’ll write about the Monroe statue in a later post.) Brad Paisley, who cites Dickens as an important influence, helped dedicate the statue, noting Dickens’s hard work and commitment to entertaining his audiences. Dickens, who died at 94 on January 2, 2015, had been on stage at the Opry just days before.

Besides his diminutive size and love of funny novelty songs, Dickens was also an early pioneer of the rhinestone style, which West has captured in bronze. Dickens was also a Shriner, and consistently wore a Shriner symbol on his cowboy hats, also seen in West’s work.

The Ryman has announced plans to work with Watts again to produce more statues of iconic country music figures, so expect to see even more bronzes at the Ryman in the coming years.

As you can see in the slideshow below, this is another in a series of works that has a helpful suggestion as to where the photographer should stand for your photo with Dickens. The empty plaza in my photos also tells you that I shot this during the pandemic shutdown. Even so, I did have to wait for a small group to finish their pictures first.

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Located at 116 5th Avenue North. That’s the official address of the Ryman, and long ago it was where you entered the building. However, the modern entrance faces the 100 block of 4th Avenue North, about a half-block north of Broadway. That is where you will find the statue. This is downtown – lots of parking, almost none of it free.

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.

The AT&T Sculpture

This work took a little bit of sleuthing because it is not labeled. It’s certainly not secret. It lies at 4th and Commerce, at the foot of the Batman Building (aka the AT&T Building), almost directly across the street from the Ryman Auditorium. Certainly, it’s well known to people who work downtown and has been seen by a lot of tourists, and in 2005 it was featured on the cover of the Nashville Business Directory. It turns out that it’s a creation of Lin Swensson, who happens to be the daughter of the architect who designed the AT&T Building, Earl Swensson of ESa. It’s thirty-five feet tall and was unveiled on October 12, 1994. As the Tennesse Department of Community and Economic Development was one of the building’s original tenants, the sculpture was meant to be an abstract representation of Tennessee’s economic growth. The best way to describe it is with the artist’s own words:

The design consists of a granite spire tapering at the top – around the spire is an image of the state of Tennessee.  Out of the state of Tennessee image is a stainless ribbon representing energy emerging, twirling up to meet three kinetic rings representing the world.

The installation was quite a process that involved closing streets and heavy machinery. Swensson herself is apparently still sculpting, but based on her website, it appears her main focus now is healthcare art consulting.

This slideshow takes you on a clockwise walk around the sculpture.

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Located at 333 Commerce Street. The sculpture is in a small well just off the corner of 4th and Commerece. There are benches where you can sit and observe the sculpture, or more likely, have lunch. This is downtown – lots of parking, almost none of it free.

Krest, 2018

Krest Graffiti mural Nashville street art

One of the earlier posts on this blog was about this very wall, and some similar-looking graffiti, only mostly in yellow. I worked out that the earlier one read “Krest,” but I didn’t have any idea who the artist was, and I gave it the cheeky title, “For that perfect smile.” You know, as in “Crest”? Well, this time around I know exactly who did it because he signed it this time – Troy Duff, aka Duffomatic, and yes, this one also reads “Krest.” In both cases, Duff did the work as part of the Hands on Creativity festival sponsored by Plaza Art. The earlier one was done for the 2015 festival, while this one was done for the 2018 festival. Duff was sponsored, at least for the second one, by Montana-Cans, a spray paint company. The previous one was painted over, presumably by the building owner, so Duff had a blank canvas to work with the second time around.

This little neighborhood squeezed between Lafayette and the interstate is known as Pie Town. Why that? Because apparently a few years ago some of the business owners wanted to rebrand the area, known for being a little rough around the edges. If you look at a map, it does sort of look lie a wedge of pie, bordered by Lafayette, 8th Avenue, and I-40. It remains surprisingly ungentrified for an area so close to downtown, though it is changing slowly.

Located at 617 Middleton Street. Nearby parking is easy. The mural is on the west side of the building, facing Plaza Arts.

The many manifestations of 5th and Lea

There’s quite a history to this wall on an unassuming building at 5th and Lea downtown. A few weeks ago, a set of murals by Thoughts Manifested and others went in. Before that, there was a set of murals primarily by Marty Riet McEwen, who signs his work “Riet.” Of course, some of Riet’s work was painted over by Abstract Dissent (aka Shane Pierce) for a Johnny Cash mural. And if you look closely at some of the pictures of Riet’s work below, you’ll see he clearly had painted over work that had been there before. Such is the way with outdoor art. I have my map with all its pins, but some spots you’ll see two or three pins, denoting a series of works on that particular wall.

The new set of murals starts on the left with a set by Pako and Audie Adams that includes a promotion of the Red Wolves Coalition, an organization dedicated to the restoration of the red wolf.

Red Wolves mural Nashville Street art

Going down the wall, we see a piece by Jon Ragoe Judkins and a new one for Riet, from what I would call his “cute horror” series. (Check out his Instagram page above, you’ll see what I mean.) And at the end, there’s an abstract piece of unknown authorship.

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Why I never put the previous murals on the blog I don’t know, but this is what was there before.

Graffiti Cash mural Nashville Street art

Johnny Cash Mural Nashville Street art

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Located at 526 5th Avenue South, which is the home of Enchanting Limousines (or was, their website has been suspended). The mural faces north, away from from Lea Avenue. This is downtown – lots of parking, almost none of it free. There’s a paid lot in front of the murals.

Hold Nothing Back

The north wall of what is now Bowie’s (and before that, Piranha’s), seems to be developing as a goto spot for murals sponsored by international brands. About three years ago, Stella Artois commissioned Eastside Murals to do a promotional piece I featured in Drink responsibly!. Last September, it was Audi’s turn. They commissioned No King’s Collective, aka Brandon Hill and Peter Chang, two Washington, D.C. artists, to use their bright, colorful style to promote the Audi Q3. That link is about the 2020 model, while the mural features the 2019. (If you’re reading this in 2021 or later, no guarantee on the link.) Hill and Chang not only painted the mural, but they also painted one of the cars, in a pattern very similar to the mural itself. The phrase “Hold nothing back” shows up a lot in Audi’s marketing campaigns.

The Audi mural is part of what seems to be a growing phenomenon – corporate firms promoting mural campaigns across the country. Just recently I featured one sponsored by Pandora that produced a mural in Germantown. All this is great – it certainly gets work for artists, possibly at somewhat higher rates than some local businesses can afford. And I think it’s good that this sometimes brings in out-of-town artists, but within limits. For the most part, I think these firms should reach out to local artists first. We need the mix, but we also need to keep our own community going.

This is something of a pandemic post. It’s not often a downtown parking lot right off 3rd Avenue is clear! I shot the mural a little off-center because there is a pole in the middle of the lot blocking a direct shot.

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Located at 174 Third Avenue North. The mural faces north, away from Lower Broad. This is downtown, so lots of parking, almost none of it free, notably not the lot the mural faces.

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.

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