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Metro Art

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.

The Riders

Between 2010 and 2015, Metro Arts sponsored a series of artistic bike racks by local and regional artists that are now scattered around town. One of the first to go in was this one, The Riders (2010) by Seth Conley. Being based at the foot of the Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, it’s seen by thousands of commuters and tourists every day, even more on a game day. The sculpture is something of a cheeky visual joke, a set of peloton riders racing along to which you to can attach your very stationary bike. (A peloton is a pack of riders who take turns riding in front, where they are fully exposed to the wind, while those behind draft off of them.) I’ve featured a few of these bike racks on the blog before – rarely do you see any bikes attached to them. Those scooters in the back, however, had been neatly placed all around the bike rack when I went to photograph it. They beeped at me a lot when I moved them. The artist, Conley, took a little work to verify, in part because none of his other work looks anything like this. But on his artist Facebook page, where you can see much of his art, there is a picture of the work when it was barely halfway done. Conley hasn’t updated that page since 2018, perhaps because his current job likely keeps him busy – Senior Creative Art Director at Wizards of the Coast, the home company of both Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. (His Instagram page is a little more up-to-date.)

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Located on the 400 block of First Street South, just south of Nissan Stadium and of Victory Avenue, across the street from the east end of the Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge. This is in the middle of a giant parking lot. The only part that is reliably free is the part labeled “Cumberland Park Parking” right across the street from the bike rack.

Ariel

Sitting in one corner of Centennial Park is a small, playful kinetic sculpture with a little plaque that reads simply, “Ariel 1979 Lin Emery.”  Lin Emery is a 93-year-old artist from New Orleans who since 1972 has specialized in kinetic, moving sculpture. He art today is found in museums and galleries around the country and the world, including the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Foreign Art in Sofia, Bulgaria; and the Flint Institute of Art in Michigan. 64 Parishes has a nice write up about her and her approach to art. That such a significant artist would have a piece sitting in front of Metro Parks’ Centennial Art Center is probably because she did not have quite the stature in 1979 that she does now. Art auction sites are coy about values, but one auction site suggests starting prices for her pieces from a few thousand dollars for smaller pieces to up to $50,000 for the larger ones. It’s a shame to show this piece in still pictures, as it does move in the wind. This video includes some of Emery’s pieces in motion, including one that resembles the Nashville piece. There’s a bonus in the pictures below – my red Honda Fit!

A side note about the Centennial Art Center. The Metro Parks website indicates it was a swimming complex that closed in 1959. But, this article says that in 1961, two young African American men tried to swim at the pool in Centennial Park, housed in a building with Doric columns (which the art center has) and a few days later all public pools in Nashville were closed. I think someone has their dates wrong.

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Located at 301 25th Ave North. The museum and the sculpture are north of the lake in Centennial Park, more-or-less across the street (25th) from the Sarah Cannon Research Center (i.e., the Minnie Pearl Center). When the museum is closed, you can park out front – otherwise, use other nearby park parking.

 

Road to the Mountaintop

Along Charlotte, not far from the Capitol, lies William Edmonson Park, adjacent to the John Henry Hale Apartments, an MDHA-run affordable housing complex that was completely rebuilt a few years ago. As part of that reconstruction, the park was redone as an art park honoring William Edmonson, a decision that in part came out of community discussions. Edmonson was a local sculptor who, in 1937,  became the first African-American and the first Tennessean to have a solo show at the Modern Museum of Art in New York. The park contains three modern sculptures commissioned by Metro Arts (and an arrangement of limestone column fragments honoring Edmonson). This one, “Road to the Mountaintop” (2014) is by Thornton Dial. In many ways, this is quite appropriate. Like Edmonson, Dial was a self-taught African-American artist who devoted himself full-time to art in his 50s after losing employment. While Edmonson worked in readily available Nashville limestone, Dial, a former metalworker, used iron, steel and found objects to create his work. Road to the Mountaintop is made from steel, sheet metal, and automotive paint, and has a weathered look as a result. The main photos here are from October 2019, but the two at the bottom are from July 2016, and you can see some clear distinctions. Dial had this to say about his work (quoted in NashvilleArts Magazine):

“I make my art for people to learn from, but I only have made one piece to go outdoors before this one. I loved the idea that people would be driving down the street and looking at my art outdoors. More people can see it that way and maybe understand what it is that artists like me think and are trying to tell people. The piece is about Martin Luther King and Civil Rights in some ways, but it is also about the struggles that every person faces if they’re a woman or a man, a black person or a white person. We all got to struggle to get up. That’s our job, our duty.”

Here are photos from the park’s dedication, where you can also see some of the other work in the park, works which I will put on the blog in the coming weeks. Oh, and the Nashville Scene’s park reviewer (which is apparently a thing) is not a fan of the park. I think it’s nice, myself.

On a related note, there was a recent attempt by Metro to sell the park in Edghill where Edmonson’s home used to be. It’s stalled for now, and the neighbors want their own art park honoring Edmonson. If it happens, it would certainly be a fitting honor.

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Located at 1600 Charlotte Avenue. The sculpture lies at the northeast end of the park, facing 16th Avenue North, near the intersection with Charlotte. The nearest street parking is one block north on Capitol Point.

Anchor in the Storm

Anchor sculpture public art Nashville

Of all the works sponsored by the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, this is one of the more unusual. It becomes more understandable once you read about it on Metro Art’s website. This piece, “Anchor in the Storm” (2013), by Betty and Lee Benson, commemorates a moment when a quarry saved the local neighborhood. During the 2010 flood, 700 billion gallons of floodwater poured into the Reostone Quarry (located on Robertson Avenue just a few blocks from the sculpture), water that would have otherwise innundated the nearby neighborhoods of Charlotte Park, The Nations, and Crowley Wood. The rock, from the quarry, was carved and donated by the quarry’s owners,  Rogers Group. The log structure is a raft, representing the neighborhoods saved by the quarry. Of course, I imagine it mostly serves as some interesting whimsey for small children to climb on. (The mural on the water tank behind is by Eric Henn. Read about it in This one is BIG!)

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Located at 6105 Morrow Road, i.e. West Park. The sculpture is just a few feet from Morrow Rd, in the northeast corner of the park. There is plenty of parking at the park, and there is nearby street parking.

 

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