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Happy Notes

One of the more significant works of outdoor art in Nashville doesn’t get much attention. It’s seen by thousands of people every day (even in the pandemic) and yet hardly anyone talks about it. In part, that’s because its not easy to photograph, and it’s impossible to see the whole thing at once. That said, not many artists featured on this blog have their own Wikipedia page.

Happy Notes Mural Nashville street art

Along the west side of the tunnel that runs under Music City Center is a 165-foot mural-mosaic by Canadian artist Bob Zoell (who resides in Los Angeles). It was installed in 2013 and is called “Happy Notes,” and features many birds and musical notes.

“Besides flight, little birds are synonymous with songs and singing. How delightful it is that our everyday life is filled with the music and songs of these little creatures that project joy in their songs. For this reason I have chosen a theme of singing birds for the Music Center landscape mural. Little birds with their simple songs express the freedom in music that is so symbolic to Nashville history.” – Bob Zoell

Nashville Arts Magazine

The late-lamented Nashville Arts Magazine wrote about this mural in 2012, after Zoell got the commission. In their article, you can see Zoell holding up a version of the mural-mosaic, which gives you an idea what it might look like unobscured by the columns. The mosaic is a surreal journey between night, day and the passing of the seasons. Music City Center has a photo album of it being installed on their Facebook page.

I think it’s a bit of a shame that it’s not more prominently displayed, somewhere where people aren’t laser focused on getting from point A to point B. But it’s a lovely piece of whimsey, by a major artist, and it’s a delightful secret hidden in plain sight.

  • Happy Notes Mosaic Nashville street art
  • Happy Notes Mosaic Nashville street art
  • Happy Notes Mosaic Nashville street art
  • Happy Notes Mosaic Nashville street art
  • Happy Notes Mosaic Nashville street art
  • Happy Notes Mosaic Nashville street art

Located at 201 5th Avenue South. That’s the official address of Music City Center. The mural-mosaic is found on the 200 block of 6th Avenue South, which runs under MCC. Google Maps does not indicate this block of 6th Avenue exists, but it does! (It is visible on Street View in some very bad photos, but not on the regular map.) This is downtown, so lots of parking, almost none of it free. The tunnel is well lit, and there are crosswalks near each end.

The Linden Building Mural

What makes a mural a mural, and where does this one start and where does it end? It’s by Sideshow Sign Co., whose work is found all over town. This is one of the only pieces signed by them, as most of their work is branding work and signs for restaurants and retail businesses, things that are not usually signed. But this mural, on the side of Serendipity in 12 South, comes with a plaque:

Linden Building Sign Nashville street art

“Repetition and the illusion of layering” would suggest that the only part of this wall that’s meant to be part of the mural is the black and white stripes up top. If so, the featured image at the beginning of this blog post should be this one:

Linden Building Stripes Nashville street art

If that’s right, that would make this one of the smallest and simplest murals in town. And truly, how many murals are mostly a white wall? But the big red stripe and the red windows along with the black and white stripes seem to all tie together. Even the turquoise awning and window frame, which are surely not part of the mural, seem part of the whole. There is the artist’s intent and the viewer’s perception. Take your pick. Either way, this mural is indeed, as the plaque says, “simple yet conceptual.”

Located at 2301 12th Avenue South, at the corner with Linden Avenue. The mural faces north towards Linden. This is 12 South, and there is a mix of paid and free parking on 12th and on side streets.

Unfinished, Unknown

The exuberant, graffiti-style sign for A&B Towing has been up for well over a year, possibly much longer. But it is also distinctly unfinished. It’s hard to see in this picture, but the artist sketched out more of both the hook and the chain, but never completed them. For that matter, the rest of the word “truck” is stenciled in but was never painted, and that letting seems to in the midst of an unfinished editing process. I say “artist” because I don’t know who did this. There is an interesting dot, like a period at the end of the “Towing” banner, which is exactly where a signature would go. It otherwise doesn’t make much sense in the context of the rest of the mural.

Not all muralists sign their work, but the ones that do, don’t sign them until the work is done. So it would seem when the artist was about 90% done, they walked away. Why? It could be something mundane, or it could have been some sort of disagreement with the business owners. A and B Towing does seem to be active, but it also has no internet presence at all, so I don’t know much about it. And as it’s been at least a year-and-half, I really don’t think the artist is coming back. Not all art is completed, and some of the great masterpieces are unfinished works. This one is likely to remain a bit of a mystery.

Located at 707 East Trinity Lane, at the corner with Pittway Drive. The mural faces east, towards Pittway. There is parking at the building, and some street parking on Pittway.

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).

 

 

Candy Hearts

I have written in the past about the relationship between bachelorettes and murals, but this is the only mural I’m aware of that is very specifically for and about bachelorettes. The usual relationship, which I first became fully aware of because of a 2018 Buzzfeed article about the Nashville bachelorette phenomenon, is fairly simple. A business puts up a mural to attract tourists, mainly bachelorettes, who get their picture taken in front of it and check in on social media. This encourages neighboring businesses to do the same thing, and before long all the tourist districts have lots of murals.

But this mural has a different story. It was sponsored by both The Bach Party, a bachelorette party-planning service, and Finnleys Boutique, a local fashion chain geared towards young women, of the same demographic as most bachelorettes. Finnleys and Bach provided a design, which was produced by Bryson Leach, a Columbia artist. The candy hearts all have phrases one might associate with the stereotypical Nashville bachelorette (that’s actually a  very benign article) and on Bach’s Instagram account, you can watch a video montage of folks in front of the mural, about 95% of whom seem to be bachelorettes. It’s perhaps an inflection moment in the mural movement in Nashville, but unfortunately for Bach and Finnleys, it went up in early February, just a little more than a month before the shutdown.

I wanted to push back on Bach and Finnleys using the #CandyHeartGulch hashtag. This is the first I’ve heard of Eighth Avenue being part of The Gulch. But the Gulch Bussiness Improvement District set up by the city in 2008 includes everything south of Broadway and between the interstate and the railroad tracks, which takes it down Division Street all the way to Frugal MacDoogal. Way back when no one went to The Gulch except to go to The Station Inn, The Gulch was 11th and 12th south of Broadway, and no one else wanted any part of it. Well, the city may say MacDoogal’s is in The Gulch (funny, it’s on a hill) but I don’t care what any developer says, there is no such thing as “North Gulch.” It’s Hell’s Half Acre, thank you.

Located at 601 8th Avenue South, immediately south of the railroad underpass. The mural faces north towards Broadway. This is downtown, so parking is generally not free, though if you scour around, there are a few free places nearby. Also, the highrises in The Gulch proper a couple blocks away have free parking for an hour or more.

The Dragons of Fannie Mae Dees Park

Yes, dragons. There are two. There is quite a history to Fannie Mae Dees Park and its dragons. Like the mural it inspired, mamma dragon and her child needed to be renovated recently, having deteriorated badly since their creation in 1981. But first some back story.

Sea Dragon sculpture mosaic Nashville street art

The park has its origins in the urban renewal movement of the 1970s. It’s hard to imagine that the neighborhoods near Vanderbilt could have ever been thought of as blighted, but so they were declared, to be taken by eminent domain and demolished for development.  Fannie Mae Dees lived in the path of this “renewal,” and became a fierce activist who fought back. She ultimately lost, and many houses on the south side of Vanderbilt were demolished. One plot slated to become a hospital ultimately proved unusable, and became a park, though Dees did not live to see it. The park was named after her, in honor of her activism – though the land would not have been cleared if she had won.

Sea Dragon sculpture mosaic Nashville street art

Anne Roos, then a board member of Metro Parks, invited Pedro Silva to come to Nashville after learning about a community art project he had done near Grant’s Tomb in New York City, a set of curving, mosaic-colored benches. She thought a similar project might help heal some of the neighborhood strife that resulted from the urban renewal project. And the Sea Serpents were born. Yes, sea serpents – that’s what Silva called them. In this WPLN Curious Nashville article that I got most of this information from (written by Mike Linebaugh), you can see him working on the interior frame. Later, people from around the neighborhood came and painted tiles, which Silva turned into mosaics, much as he had done at the Grant’s Tomb project. He included many faces, including a portrait of Fannie Mae Dees herself, with the house she defended in the background.

Mosaic portrait Nashville Street art

Ultimately, the dragons, as Nashvillians know them, deteriorated. Intermittently repaired over the years, it would take a major renovation project in 2017 and 2018, spearheaded by the Hillsboro-West End Neighborhood Association, to restore the dragons. Again, people from the neighborhood participated in the reconstruction, including some who had been part of the original build. Interestingly, the same things happened to the Grant’s Tomb project. Silva led that renovation but had sadly died by the time the Nashville project was underway.

Sea Dragon sculpture mosaic Nashville street art

And so the sea serpents, err, dragons are restored. And yes, I was able to get these photos because of the pandemic. Sadly, no one can play on them right now.

The head of the larger dragon

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The Middle Hump

The Small Dragon

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The Tail Group

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Located at 2400 Blakemore Avenue. The dragons are close to the center of the park and are easily visible from both Blakemore and 24ty Avenue south. Much of the closest street parking is metered.

Nashville Strong 2020

Nashville Strong mural street art tornado

Well, that was fast. The tornado came in the very early hours of Tuesday morning. By late afternoon Sunday, Nashville’s artists had responded. Of course, every artist needs a sponsor, and they found one in Mathew Charette. Charette is the owner of Drifters, Beyond the Edge, and Boston Commons and the building that housed the Gold Club Electric tattoo parlor. All three restaurants were damaged, and the Gold Club Electric building was destroyed. But Charette felt the need to

“Shake my fist” at this storm and say “is that all you got storm, you don’t know who you are messing with, we are East Nashville Five Points and we are Nashville Strong”

And so he put out a call to artists to do just, offering an intact wall at Boston Commons. Ultimately, Mobe Oner, Jason Galaz, and Milton Chavez answered the call. It certainly got a lot of attention. Heck, some of the media even thought it was important to film Galaz changing into his painting shoes. In this WKRN story, you can listen to Charette talk about what inspired him, as well as see some of the work of producing the mural and hear from the artists as well.

Now about the photo. I’ve gotten fairly picky about photos on this blog – no shadows, no backlighting, no cars in front. A fence in front? Clipped off signatures? No way! But this morning, when I tried to photograph it, the police wouldn’t let me near, as the whole area was cleared for NES workers who were working to restore power. However, Officer Eric Burford of the MNPD was kind enough to take my phone and walk down to the site and shoot a quick photo for me. Apparently, he had to be quick because NES workers were moving some heavy equipment nearby. I think the picture is completely appropriate. Nashville is under repair right now. A lot is broken, a lot is incomplete. No one has time to complain about inconveniences, but everyone tries to help everyone else. That’s the spirit of Nashville Strong.

Located at 1008A Woodland Street. Right now, you can’t park nearby or even walk up there, at least while NES crews are at work, but in the future, the usual Five Points rules apply. Paid parking if you don’t want to walk, or street parking if you can walk two or three blocks.

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