Because I took a break from the blog for a while, I’ve missed some new art. But I also have a back catalog, if you will, of older art that still needs to make it to the blog. And the double mural at the Commodore Grille is an important work I should have put on the blog a long time ago.
What makes this work important is its location, for the Commodore Grille sits in the Holiday Inn building on West End. This makes the murals at the Commodore Grille some of the very first murals on a building owned by a national chain in Nashville. Depending on how you define “major,” it might also qualify for the very first on a building owned by a major chain. This mural and its companion (which I will feature soon in an upcoming post) were done by Mobe Oner (Eric Bass) in April 2019 in honor of the Grille’s 50th anniversary. As such, they beat out the mural at our local branch of Top Golf by a couple of months and the one at the Kroger near Five Points by a few more. The only mural at a national chain in Nashville that appeared earlier that I am aware of is the one at what used to be a Holler & Dash and is now rebranded as a branch of Maple Street Biscuit Company. That one was created by Meghan Wood of I Saw the Sign in early 2018. Ashley Bergeron of The Studio 208 helped Mobe Oner get the Grille and Holiday Inn to take this leap and put local art on a national chain.
It’s also an early example of an interactive mural, or at least it was. At one point there was a stool in the middle where people could get their picture made between the two songwriters. While the famous wings mural was probably the first intentionally interactive mural in Nashville, as a trend interactive murals didn’t really take off until around the time the Commodore Grille murals went up. (The Gulch wings mural went up in 2016, around the time I started this blog.)
The anonymous songwriters in this mural are an obvious theme for the Commodore Grille, as songwriters’ nights and open mic nights are a regular feature of the entertainment there. If you want to see a very different version of Nashville music from the one found down on Lower Broad, you might want to check out the Commodore Grille.
Located at 2613 West End Avenue. The mural faces west towards 28th Avenue South. This is a busy area with lots of parking, but most of it is tied to local businesses. You might try the parking garage on the 2500 block of West End or look for street parking on Vanderbilt Place a block south of the mural.
I’ve been away from the blog for two months if you are wondering why you haven’t seen any posts in a while. I’m not sure why I’ve been off so long. Some of it is pandemic blahs, for sure. But I think it was burnout as well. Back in June 2021, I hit the fifth-year anniversary of the blog. For much of that time, I was posting three times a week. I also spent a lot of time driving around Davidson County looking for outdoor art, old and new. Any cloudy day (I hate shadows on my pictures), I’d hit the road, keeping my eyes peeled for any splash of color.
But back last October, I started to slow down to two posts a week, and by November just one a week. Then my post-Thanksgiving, end-of-the-semester-I-have-a-lot-of-work-to-do vacation stretched to Christmas, then to New Year’s, and heck, all of January. Well, it’s February 1, and Chinese Lunar New Year, and as good a time to restart as any. And the Facebook page for the blog has been getting a lot of new followers, so the lack of new content has gotten a little embarrassing!
So, some art. Anyone who has known the 12 South neighborhood over the last several years has seen the “Erector Set Sculpture” as I have dubbed it. I never blogged about it because I was never able to determine who built it, or who authorized or commissioned it. It sits (or rather did) behind what’s known as the Paris Building, which was sold last May. The only “signature” on it was some leaf prints in the concrete bases and what might be “1221.” Well, those small clues are all that’s left of the Erector Set Sculpture. It disappeared sometime in the last few months, and I’m not sure if it still exists. Presumably, the new owners didn’t want it anymore. It was sitting on some very valuable property.
If anyone knows its history or what happened to it, I will be happy to update this post!
And I will be posting again. I’m shooting for twice a week for now and may ramp up in the future.
Formerly located behind the Paris Building at 2814 12th Avenue South. There are plenty of great murals to see in the area, so you should still visit, but you might want to rideshare – there are a lot of tourists fighting for not many parking spaces.
UPDATE: All it took was for me to post it to Instagram to learn the artist and the proper name. From Jon Sewell:
“The sculpture, named by artist Holton Rower as “Church of Sculpture,” was located at 2814 12th Ave. S., in the 12South District. As a side note, the 2814 property was owned by 1221 Partners, and Mark Deutschmann and Joel Solomon were co-managers of that partnership. They have a long history of doing the right thing And supporting good causes. Holton, the artist and Joel’s close friend, is the grandson of the artist legend, Alexander Calder. The sculpture has been a low profile art presence, formerly in Hillsboro Village (1996), then moved to 12South in 2009. Last I heard it was moved into storage when the 12th S site was sold.”
If it ever reappears, I will give it its own proper post.
Life has been turned upside for everyone since March 2020, but East Nashville started this strange period even bumpier than most. The March 3, 2020 tornado hit the neighborhood hard, and since then there have been many tributes to the rebuilding and the resilience of this side of town, notably the “Nashville Strong” mural at Boston Commons. More recently, a bright, multi-colored tribute to East Nashville’s comeback appeared at Lockeland Table.
About a year ago, Cara Graham, co-owner of Lockeland table, asked Emily Harper Beard (who works under the name e.f. harper) to do a mural that represented East Nashville’s strength and resilience. Beard hesitated at first because she didn’t want to compete with the mural that was already on Lockeland Table’s main wall (a painted sign from when the building housed a hair salon). Also, she was reluctant to paint on the building’s brick wall.
An answer came from Andee Rudloff (who has been featured on this blog many times) – aluminum panels from the local branch of Jerry’s Artarama (who has their own post-tornado comeback mural I need to feature). From there it was a question of design, and Beard settled on a phoenix image she had created in college. The phoenix, of course, is an ancient and potent symbol of rebirth and renewal. The hashtag on the mural gives this blog post its title.
Located at 1520 Woodland Street, at the corner with 16th Street. The mural faces east, away from downtown and Five Points. There is street parking available, but you might wind up walking a block or two.
One of the two or three most photographed murals in Nashville is this one, the original I Believe in Nashville mural in the 12 South neighborhood. It even has its own Wikipedia page, which as far as I know is a unique distinction for Nashville murals. So why am I only writing about it now? I don’t know, but the fifth anniversary of the blog seems a good time to finally get it done. (I waited to write about the Musica statue for the fourth anniversary.)
I chose a wide shot to include all the tags and signatures on the mural. When Saporiti first painted the mural, the business home of his art was DCXV Industries (DCXV means 615, Nashville’s area code), and that’s how the mural was originally signed. Since then, Saporiti has stopped using the DCXV brand. It now carries tags for the “I Believe in Nashville” internet destinations, as well as tags for Howells Alley, a reference to the developers who own the buildings alongside the alley. (Scroll to the bottom of this post for the mural’s exact location information.)
Now, about the five years. When I started blogging about outdoor art in Nashville, I never thought either the blog or the art scene would become much of a big deal. Well, the blog is still a fairly minor affair, with about four to five thousand page views a month. I have to say I’m a little embarrassed about some of the early work, but back then I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’ve since learned a lot, and now I think I’ve created something unique. I don’t think there are a lot of blogs like mine, with now 740 articles devoted to outdoor art in a particular town. I have to say in the latter days (hopefully!) of the pandemic I’ve slowed down my posting some, mostly because I’ve been homebound. I hope those days are passed.
As for the scene itself, it as of course exploded. That’s been part of the luck of this blog. I started right when things were starting to take off. Now art is everywhere, and who can possibly keep up? Two trends are very clear. One, art is strongly driven by tourism. It is increasingly seen as part of the price of doing business, and it drives foot traffic (and all those lovely selfies with the location tagged). Another smaller trend that piggybacks off the first is that national chains are getting into the act. While still primarily something local businesses do, I knew when Kroger got in the game, the rules had changed. Others have since followed.
Here’s where I make a point I make in all these anniversary posts: all of those images of fruit, meat, vegetables, and scenes of the old country found on immigrant businesses? It’s real art done by real artists, just as much as the famous wings are. Check out Ruben Dario and José Fernando Vargas on the Artists page.
The most moving things that have ever happened with this blog have also been the most tragic. Because of all the research and writing I had done, I was able to document the damage done by the March 3, 2020 tornado to outdoor art in Nashville in the posts “What We Lost in the Storm” and “Storm Damage, Germantown and North Nashville.” Those posts are some of the most widely read of any on this blog. I had hoped I would never have to do something like that again but then came the Christmas Day bombing. Fortunately, I had already documented the art on the AT&T building, and so I was able to write “The Lost Murals of the AT&T 2nd Avenue Art Wall.” Maybe this year there will be no need for posts like that.
I will keep blogging. There are technical things to be done. For instance, the categories are a mess. And now that I am taking care of embarrassingly missing pieces like the mural above, I may finally start writing about the surrounding counties, which are beginning to have their own art booms.
Oh, and very soon, in the next couple of weeks, another major milestone is coming up, so keep an eye out for it!
Located at 2700 12th Avenue South. The mural is in an alley on the north side of 12 South Dental Studio. The alley lies halfway between Halcyon and Montrose Avenues. The mural faces across the alley towards Draper James. Look for the white building with all of the blue-and-white awnings. Parking is not easy in 12 South, and rarely free. Be prepared to walk, or grab a ride share.
This mural is hard to miss, given its enormous size (135 feet long, 26 feet high) and its prominent location right across Korean Veterans Boulevard from the Nashville Music City Center. Being that it faces a parking lot, it’s a little difficult to get a “clean” photo, but I finally caught it without cars. It was, not surprisingly, sponsored by the Tennessee Titans, and went up back in September as part of Titans Kickoff Week for the 2020 season. It’s the work of Mobe Oner (Eric Bass), one of Nashville’s most versatile muralists.
“Tennessee Tough really just explains the resiliency of the people of Tennessee. Tennessee Tough are people who get their hands dirty for a living and do what they have to do, like our first responders, essential workers and teachers. Tennessee Tough is our football team.”
The mural shows an unnamed Titans player with the number “615” (the Nashville area code) on his jersey. Below his arms are the names of all of the counties of Tennessee. Above his arms are a series of quotes from various Tennesseans (or in the case of John Lewis, people associated with Tennessee.) From left to right:
“Teamwork is what makes common people capable of uncommon results.” Pat Summit, from “Reach for the Summit”
“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Tennessee Williams, from “A Streetcar Named Desire”
“The triumph cannot be had without the struggle.” Wilma Rudolph, from a Chicago Tribune interview
“We’re ready to go to work for you because you’re our family.” Jon Robinson, from the press conference presenting him as the new Titans General Manager
“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” John Lewis (a frequent quote of his)
The mural includes an augmented reality experience, created by MVP Interactive. If you go to the Titan’s page for the mural, you can get a QR code which will start the process (click on “Launch Augmented Reality”). It works on pictures, so try it on the image at the top of the screen (if you are on a computer). The quotes pop out of the mural, and the football player becomes 3-D and spikes the football.
This press release from the Titans includes a video of Bass working on the mural as well as discussing the process of creating it. He apparently had a lot of freedom in creating the image. You’ll also find an extensive photo essay of the mural’s creation there. The long-term future of this mural is perhaps questionable. The building it sits on, an office and industrial building, is a rare survivor from the industrial past of this neighborhood, and the land it sits on is undoubtedly worth millions – many millions.
Located at 424 6th Avenue South. That’s the address of the parking lot. It lies between 6th Avenue S and Rep. John Lewis Way South (aka 5th Avenue S), just south of Korean Veterans Blvd, and faces to the north. This is downtown, so lots of parking, not much of it free. If you are willing to walk a few blocks, there is some free street parking to the south.
Radford did the Elite Bonding eagle mural in August 2019. I had a chance to talk to her about it then, and my memory is that she told me that the owner wanted something patriotic, hence the eagle. This was one of Radford’s first outdoor murals in Nashville, and she has since gone on to be one of the more prolific muralists in town. For example, most of the murals at Grimey’s are her work.
Because of its themes, I had intended to save the Elite Bonding mural for a patriotic day, like July 4 or Veteran’s Day, and had there been no tornado, that’s exactly what I would have done. That this mural survived with only minor damage is miraculous, and a testament to both the arbitrary nature of tornado damage and the willingness of the business owner, Bill Tomlinson, to repair and restore his building instead of raze it and start over. When Radford originally did this mural, she continued the geometric flag pattern on the opposite, west-facing side of the building. That half of the building collapsed, and the roof was ripped off, but the wall with the eagle survived.
The damage to it is modest. Mostly what looks like damage is actually places that weren’t painted in the first place because something was covering that part of the wall before the storm. There is a stripe that looks like a repaired crack on the right of the mural. In fact, there used to be a gutter there. That stripe was never painted in the first place. The only real damage is a few dings and scratches. A few quite reminders of the storm, if you know what to look for.
I didn’t get any pictures of the completed mural before the storm. For that, you’ll need to check Radford’s Instagram page – here it complete, and there also severalshots of the mural in progress. I do have my own nighttime shot of the eagle in progress.
Located at 940 Main Street. The mural is on the east side of the building, facing away from downtown. There is plenty of parking here and at nearby businesses.
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.
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.
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.