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

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Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery

Around the corner from one of the more spectacular murals in town is the fa├žade of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery. Nelson’s is a revival of a family business first founded in Nashville after the Civil War by Charles Nelson. It became one of the only high-volume distilleries in Tennessee, and was distributed widely until the state of Tennessee instituted prohibition in 1909. A hundred years later, two of Nelson’s grandsons restarted the business in Marathon Village. You can read about its history here.

The central logo is based on a logo found on bottles from the original business, reading “Green Brier Tennessee” instead of “Nelson’s Green Brier.” (The name comes from the location of the original distillery in Greenbrier, TN). The sign, or really collection of signs, is by Bryan Deese, a prolific Nashville muralist. Like a lot of signs, it has no signature, but Nelson’s credits him on their Instagram page, and includes a couple of shots of him working on it, one which makes clear he had an assistant. Not every business does that, credit sign makers (and sometime not even muralists) so good for Nelson’s.

An odd aside – as I was leaving from shooting (and buying a bottle!) a truck pulling a large flat-bed trailer festooned with flags pulled up. On the trailer was a preacher, railing into his phone (shooting a video) against the evils of alcohol and the audacity of Nelson’s having its doors wide open (not the ones in the picture). They were open for COVID safety, presumably. The spirit of Prohibition than fist shut down Nelson’s is still around.

Located at 1414 Clinton Street, at the corner with 16th Avenue North. There is some street parking on Clinton, and some nearby paid lots.

Four years and counting

Today is the fourth anniversary of this blog, and I present a work of art no Nashvillian has ever seen. Ok, not a very good joke, but the “Musica” sculpture by Alan LeQuire has been a notable absence from a blog with the motto “no art left behind.” It is in fact one of the most commented-on works of art in Nashville, ever since it went up in 2003. The nakedness of the figures has been a main point of discussion, and at various times pranksters have put clothes on them. Recently, they were briefly masked. Perhaps less known is that the traffic circle they sit in is the Buddy Killen Circle. Killen was an important Music Row producer and publisher before his death in 2006. (Pictures of “Musica” in the round can be found at the bottom of the post.)

I don’t think I knew what I was getting into when I started this blog. It’s become a little something of a second job, though I wish I could tell all the folks trying to sell me blog-related services, this is a strictly non-profit hobby. I started at just the right time. Although this is certainly not a murals-only blog, the explosion in the Nashville mural scene is what has sustained it. Four years ago, murals were mainly on auto repair shops, in back alleys, and other out-of-the-way places. Then they migrated, slowly at first and then a rush, to the street-visible walls of local businesses. In the last several months, national chains have begun to enter the mural market, though not yet at full steam. Why has all this happened? In part, it goes back to an early push by Chamber East (the East Nashville branch of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce) and the high-profile example of the works promoted by the Nashville Walls Project. But it is also about a slow-developing movement reaching critical mass. One store-owner gets a mural and gets a lot of attention, and then neighboring businesses want one. Then it starts a few blocks down. Next thing you know, we have several full-time muralists in town and a few people leading mural tours for a living. While I have you here, I’ll tell you my little hobby horse: The artists who do mural work for Latino and other immigrant businesses are some of the most prolific artists in town, they’ve been doing long before anyone else got started, and they deserve to be recognized as real artists!

The blog has grown slowly in activity over the years. The first full year, 2017, 600 views a month was common. In 2018, it rose to around 1500 a month, to a little over 2300 per month in 2019. 2020 has been weird – a 3000 view month in both March and June, with a big crash in the months in between. That may have something to do with the demographics of my readers. Google tells me that my readership skews heavily female, and the largest group of readers are women aged 18-34 – you know, the bachelorette demographic? Who weren’t in town much during the height of the shutdown? By the way, those bachelorettes are another major reason for the mural explosion, as murals pull them in and that drives street traffic, music to any business owner’s ears.

And slowly but surely, Google has taken notice. If you search for “nashville public art,” I’m usually near or at the top of the page. With “nashville murals” and “nashville street art” you can now actually find me, though you still have to work your way through a few pages of links to all the “Here are the best 20 murals for your Instagram shot” articles to find me. For years though, this blog just didn’t show up at all in those kinds of searches. Progress!

The blog needs revamping. The biggest project I have in mind is thoroughly revising the Categories tab. I set up those categories on day one having no idea what I would need, and most of them I never use. I’d like them to reflect better what’s on the blog and be more useful to readers. That’s going to be a big job because I hit 600 posts back in April, but it’s on my list. I know that picture-heavy as it is, the blog can load slowly at times, and I need to work on that as well. Speaking of milestones, the map will have 600 pins on it soon, so look for me to finally post about another major work of art missing from my blog when that happens.

I’m going to keep at it, and sometime, possibly later this year, I’m going to start including work from the surrounding counties. In the meantime, keep reading, and get out there and enjoy the art!

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“Musica” is located in the middle of Buddy Killen Circle, where Music Square East, Division Street, Demonbreun Street, and 16th Avenue South meet. There is paid parking in the building between Demonbreun and Division and elsewhere nearby. Street parking is available on some nearby blocks.

Spaceman

What happens when an artist is given complete freedom to create? Well, if the artist is Mobe Oner (aka Eric Bass), you might just get a surreal scene. Perhaps you might get something like a drifting spacesuit filled with butterflies, with the facemask broken open so the butterflies can escape. In this case, you get exactly that. It certainly doesn’t have much to do with pizza, despite being on the front of the Midtown branch of Donatos. And no, the closeup pictures below are not slightly out of focus. Originally, this was a wooden surface, but the mural was done on stucco, giving it a textured look. There’s a richness to the color that you don’t see in a lot of murals in Nashville. As for the spacesuit, it doesn’t appear to be a specific design, but it seems to most resemble the AL7, which used by NASA for the Apollo and Skylab missions and thus would be fixed in a lot of folks’ minds as what a spacesuit should look like. And anyway, the orange Space Shuttle suits wouldn’t look good here. The butterflies look a lot like Blue Emperor butterflies, but they may just be fantasy butterflies.

Spaceman mural Nashville street art

In all the rush to make murals interactive, maybe all that’s needed is an arresting image.

Located at 1915 Broadway. The mural is on the front of the building, facing the street. There is street parking right in front of the mural, unfortunately, and Donato’s has its own parking as well. Grab some pie and enjoy the art!

Hyatt House and the Melting LP

Nestled in the alcove that forms the entrance to the Hyatt House Nashville at Vanderbilt (actually a couple blocks north of Vandy) is this large image (it’s around ten feet high). It looks for all the world like a viny LP record that is melting, dripping in thin streams of color down the panel. If you’re just walking down the street, it jumps out in stark contrast from the white wall behind it, as you can gather from the context shots below. A deconstructed vinyl record in rapidly developing Midtown seems appropriate, particularly since it is just a few steps away from the Rock Block, itself threatened by growth. It’s by Eastside Murals, with a discreet signature on the side. Instead of their more common way of working by painting directly on walls, this work is on a large wooden panel. The wall it sits on is alternately smooth and rough, and you can see from the picture of the signature below, the artists shaped the wood accordingly. Is it coincidence that the void in the middle is the perfect place to stand to get your picture taken?

Dripping vinyl mural street art Nashville

Hotels frequently use art, sometimes on a grand scale, but I think a giant wooden panel painted by local artists on the outside of a hotel is a little unusual. It certainly fits with the theme that Nashville business, even corporate chains, see outdoor art as a necessary part of their business plan.

Located at 2100 Hayes Street. The mural is on the south side of the building facing Hayes, near the corner with 21st Avenue North. There is street parking on Hayes.

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