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nashville public art

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

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Metro Art

Handlebar Mustache

One of the first works of art which inspired this blog was this whimsical bike rack designed by Jenna Boyko Holt. It was installed in 2014 as part of the Metro Arts program of artist-designed bike racks that ran from 2010 to 2015. I’m not sure why I’m only getting around to it now, but there’s a picture of it in a collection of photos I made on day of art in my own neighborhood that was in many ways the genesis of this blog. It is in fact called “Handlebar Mustache,” appropriately enough. Here’s the design Colt originally submitted to Metro Arts. It was a little shinier when it first went in, but otherwise it has been gracing Porter Road for about six years now.

Mustache sculpture Nashville street art

Colt is also part of Vermilion Murals. Some of their best-know work are the two murals on each side of Carter Vintage Guitars, one of a gigantic guitar, and another featuring  Maybelle Carter. If you’ve been on 8th Avenue South near Division Street, you’ve seen them. As well as murals and designing bike racks, Colt also does her own paintings, some of which you can see at the link to her site above.

I often say I never see bikes attached to the Metro Arts bike racks, but the photo I took of it five years ago proves that’s wrong.

Mustache Sculpture

Today I wouldn’t even bother taking that picture because I like “clean” shots for the blog. Here’s the bike rack from one end, which may give you a better idea of how it is meant to be used.

Mustache bike rack Nashville street art

Located at 715 Porter Road, the complex that includes Pomodoro East. It lies directly in front of Brightside Bake Shop, and is quite visible from the road. Their is ample parking at the complex, and street parking in the neighborhood on the other side of Porter.

Threshold (The Cumberland Gear Ring)

One of the quieter of Nashville’s iconic outdoor art works is the giant gear ring embedded in the sidewalk along the East Bank Greenway, down by the Nissan Stadium. It doesn’t have the pizzazz of Ghost Ballet, the twisting red sculpture just a couple hundred yards away that’s impossible to miss from across the river on Lower Broad. It’s not controversial like Musica, the dancing pyramid of nudes just off Music Row. It’s just steady and serene, like a quiet sentinel.

Threshold Ring Nashville street art

There’s no plaque (unusual for city-owned art), so most people don’t know it has a name or any idea who’s behind it. It’s by Joe Sorci and it’s called “Threshold.” (That link is from Facebook. His website requires flash, which many browsers block.) It was installed in 1999, and it’s the product of a grant from the Metro Development and Housing Authority (which may explain the lack of a plaque – Metro Arts is very good about signage). It’s art based on found materials. Like Ghost Ballet, it’s made from objects left behind by the barge companies that used to operate on the east bank. Specifically, it’s the gear from a steam crane that once loaded and unloaded barges.

Gear Ring Sculpture Nashville street art

It’s actually part of a set. Nearby there are some less well known pieces, including a mosaic embedded in the sidewalk and a long bar with a gear on the end. These are also by Sorci and were made from found materials as well. I’ll feature them in a later post.

Threshold sculpture Nashville street art

As you can see, I’ve photographed it in different seasons. I think that just highlights its unchanging solidity. It doesn’t show up on social media as much as some of the flashier art in town, but unless the city removes it, it’s likely be in place much longer than almost anything in town. People do like to get their photos using it as a frame, and an intrepid few climb it and hang from the top for a photo.

Ring sculpture Nashville street art

This image shows how that might be done. The internal partitions provide handholds that could be used as a kind of ladder to get to the top, if someone were willing to try. You didn’t hear that from me.

Gear Sculpture Nashville street art
Two Nashville icons together, Threshold and the Batman Building
  • Ring Sculpture Nashville street art
  • Gear Ring sculpture Nashville street art
  • Threshold sculpture Nashville street art
  • Gear Sculpture Nashville street art

Located on the East Bank Greenway, which parallels Titan’s Way. If you are on the river side of the stadium, its almost directly lined up with the middle of the stadium. There’s some free parking for the park on the other side of the pedestrian bridge that lies south of the ring.

Ghost Ballet for the East Bank Machineworks

Properly, this piece is called “Ghost Ballet for the East Bank Machineworks,” though I think most Nashvillians know it as “the roller coaster looking thing down by the river.” It is far and away one of the most photographed and recognizable works of public art in Nashville. Right across the river from Lower Broad, and an easy walk from there over the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, it’s a major tourist site as well. So why haven’t I put it on the blog before? It is the blog avatar, after all. I don’t know, but I finally got it on the blog to mark a major milestone – 600 pins on the blog map. More about that later.

No, it’s not made from leftover pieces of the Opryland roller coaster, which is a persistent rumor in town. Rather, it’s the product of a national competition to build the very first piece of art commissioned under Nashville’s “Percent for Art” ordinance which sets aside one percent of any of Metro’s general obligation bonds for public art, administered by the Metro Nashville Art Commission, better known at Metro Arts.  The contest was won by Alice Aycock, who based her design on the history of the east bank as an industrial site. Completed in 2007, the piece is 100 feet tall, 100 feet wide, and 60 feet deep. It rests on the foundations of an old gantry crane that once lowered barges into the river.

In comments appearing on the City of Nashville website, Aycock described her creation as a work of static animation. “It changes as you move around it,” the artist explained. “It suggests a certain kind of movement, dance movements, which is why I refer to it as a Ghost Ballet.” (Source)

I personally find it fascinating and have taken hundreds of pictures of it. The first set of photos here show it in normal light from various angles, including what it looks like from across the river.

Ghost Ballet is also a pretty good flood gauge. Normally, the whole work is well above the river, and it’s possible to stand a good 20 feet below its base. When the small part I call “the boat” actually looks like a boat floating on the river, you need to pay attention to the weather, as the risk of flood is increased significantly.

I also like to create more dramatic shots of Ghost Ballet. In particular, the way it interacts with the skyline and the river provides lots of opportunities to create interesting shots.

About the 600 pins – I reached 600 blog posts back in April (and did not realize it at the time). There’s a lag mainly because early on when I started this blog I would use one pin for multiple pieces of art that were in one place. I don’t do that anymore. I also don’t remove pins for art that no longer exists. I would hazard a guess that ten to fifteen percent of the points on the map represent lost art. I try to keep posts updated, so check the link in the pin to see if I’ve noted it as lost. This is not a 100% guarantee though, as I don’t always know what is lost. The patterns on the map are obvious – there are key areas where you find a lot of art. In particular, you find many pieces along Main Street and Gallatin Pike, Twelve South, Downtown, Nolensville Pike, the Jefferson and Buchanan corridors, and Charlotte Pike. The main thing these places have in common is a large number of local businesses. National chains have recently begun to sponsor outdoor art, but this is still primarily a local affair.

Ghost Ballet is located on the East Bank Greenway, next to the Bridge Building. It’s just south of Nissan Stadium. There is in fact free parking. Look for the parking for Cumberland Park, which lies near the river south of the pedestrian bridge (the opposite side from the stadium).

 

 

The Gathering

Some of the most visible and seen outdoor art in Nashville are the pieces in William Edmonson Park. With busy Charlotte Pike just steps away, thousands of Nashville commuters drive past these every day, and they have become familiar landmarks for many. Of course, the are an intrinsic part of the John Henry Hale Apartments, an MDHA-run affordable housing complex that was completely rebuilt a few years ago and which borders the park. One of them I’ve written about before, Road to the Mountaintop by Thornton Dial at the northwestern end of the park.

Near the other end of the park are these figures by Sherri Warren Hunter, called “Ther Gathering.” The four figures have not always been Charlotte Pike landmarks, however. Originally, they sat in front of The Oasis Center headquarters, when the center was still on Music Row. In 2001, Hunter gathered volunteers from Oasis and from the community, taught them how to cut and set mosaic, and turned the production of the figures into a real community event. After ten years The Oasis Center moved to a site just west of the park, and in 2013 Oasis donated the figures to Metro Nashville Arts. Metro Arts worked with Hunter to restore and move the pieces safely. A U-shaped string of rock benches allow for seating around the sculptures. Sometime since 2013, the unusual “shades” seen below were added.

The Gathering Sculpture Nashville street art

We live in a time when gathering is of great concern. The COVID-19 pandemic has kept people apart, while the protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Milwaukee police have brought people together – and torn them apart as well. Hunter’s piece reflects a simple truth, that we are social beings, and are often defined by our relationships with each other. And of course our pets.

Located at 1600 Charlotte Avenue. The sculpture lies near the northwestern end of the park, facing along a driveway that comes off of 17th Avenue North, near the intersection with Charlotte. The nearest street parking is one block north on Capitol Point

A Splash of Color

For twenty years, these colorful dancing figures have graced the side of the Watkins Park Community Center. They, along with the mosaics and other figures that adorn the entrance, are called “A Splash of Color,” and were done in 2000 by Doug Stevenson, Ronnica Stanley, and Lynn Harroff.  I got their names from the Metro-Owned Artwork Conditions Assessment Report (pdf), but otherwise, I’ve been able to learn little about them. It’s likely they were associated with the community center at the time. Since then a tree has grown up that obscures the center figures, but otherwise, as the report states, their condition, and the condition of the mosaics, is quite good. Pretty impressive for painted wood exposed to the weather. And they definitely bring color and life to an otherwise drab building. Some differ, but I believe bringing beauty to public spaces is a good use of Metro dollars, though, in these tough budget times, we probably won’t be getting anything new for a while. Good thing these relics are holding up well.

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These are the mosaics and other figures at the entrance.

Watkins Figures mural mosaic Nashville Street art

Located at 617 17th Avenue North. The figures along the wall face south towards Jo Johnston Avenue, while the entrance is on 17th Avenue. The community center has parking, and street parking is available nearby.

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.

Microphone Bike Rack

If you Google “microphone bike rack Nashville” you will discover that this particular bike rack is popular indeed. It’s been written up by Roadside America and the Smithsonian Magazine, you can buy a photo of it from Getty Images, and it pops up several times on Pinterest. And it’s perfectly located, just steps from Music Row. It is of course part of the Metro Arts bicycle rack series. It’s the product of a 2010 contest open to artists from within 200 miles of Nashville, though in this case the artists involved were quite local. Franne Lee, who has since moved to Wisconsin, once was a co-owner of the now-closed Plowhaus Gallery. Plowhaus was a pioneer art gallery in East Nashville that went through multiple versions before its final demise. (Lee is also probably the only artist I’ve featured who has her own IMBD page. She has a long history as a costume designer.) Speaking of East Nashville pioneers that opened and closed twice, one of the other two artists is Mac Hill, former owner of the Radio Cafe – both of them. Keith Harmon rounds out the trio. He’s also an East Nashville artist and has done signs and murals for several local businesses. (Not to be confused with the other Keith Harmon responsible for The Riders bike rack near the stadium – two different people.)

As you can see from the slideshow below, there wasn’t much traffic or many people around when I shot this recently. The stretch of Demonbreun between the interstate and the Musica sculpture (not on the blog yet!) has a number of bars and restaurants and is usually bustling with tourists and locals, a kind of mini-Lower Broad. But in these days of pandemic, it’s also eerily quiet. Someday, the tourists will be back, and we will be complaining about pedal taverns again!

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Located at 1538 Demonbreun Street. That’s actually the address of TailGate Brewery, which it sits in front of. There’s a fair amount of parking in the area, very little of it free.

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