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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 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.

Camino y Raíces/Roots & Routes

Roots

There’s mixed media, and then there’s mixed media. The sculpture of a stack of books at the Downtown Library featured in Heavy reading is made from stones from five continents. “Camino y Raíces/Roots & Routes” in Azafrán Park contains coins from no less than 77 countries. Azafrán Park, which opened in August, is the result of a partnership between Conexión Américas and Metro Parks and Recreation, among others. It sits on the north side of Casa Azafrán, where the Park building featured in Color me gone – soon once stood. It serves to provide a community space, particularly for children, in a section of town that has little open green space. This piece was produced by Jairo Prado in collaboration with students from the Opportunity Now program. As explained in this Nashville Arts interview with Prado, the students came from Glencliff, Nashville School for the Arts, Overton, and Hume Fogg. The mural, by its title and its coins from many lands, speaks to the different origins of many Nashvillians, particularly the immigrant community along Nolensville and Murfreesboro Pikes. Prado of course also designed and led the production of the mosaic that adorns the front of Casa Azafrán, Migration. The coins for this mural were collected at Casa Azafrán, in the community and even at the airport! This is a bit of an art hotspot. The mosaic faces the giant photo mural from Oz Arts Inside/Out, Part 1. The mural featured in Hidden away is really hidden now, as there is a concrete wall in front of it, but it can still be glimpsed from the side and through some holes in the wall. And there’s a mural on that concrete wall I’ll feature later, as well as some mobile giant snails from Cracking Art and a colorful block arrangement for kids to play on. All of it will probably be on the blog eventually.

Located at 2187 Nolensville Pike. There is parking in front and behind Casa Azafrán.

Migration

MIgration

Nolensville Road is home to some striking outdoor art, and one of the most notable pieces is the colorful tile mosaic installation atop Casa Azafrán. Casa Azafrán describes itself as “28,800-square-feet of community empowerment, nonprofit collaboration and global grandeur.” It houses several non-profits, many with ties to the Latino community, notably Conexión Américas, which helps Latino families integrate into the Nashville community. The mosaic, titled “Migration” and unveiled in January 2013, was designed by Jairo Prado, a Columbian born Nashville artist. The design and materials are in keeping with the traditions of both Latino and Muslim culture (there are Muslim community non-profits housed at Casa Azafrán as well). Tile mosaics have a long history in Spain, stretching back through the Moorish period of Muslim rule and into the Roman era. When the Spanish came to the Americas, they brought their tile mosaics with them, where they encountered an already rich mural tradition in Mexico and Central America. Both art forms, often intertwined, spread across Latin America, and it is only natural that they have found their way in such a bold and bright manner to Nashville’s main immigrant corridor. The mosaic also represents the community focus of Casa Azafrán. More than 300 volunteers helped cut and install the tiles. You can see some of the process by which it was made in this video.

Located at 2195 Nolensville Pike. There is a fair amount of parking at Casa Azafrán. If the front lot is full, there is also parking at the back of the building. Get involved in some community non-profits and enjoy the art!

 

Fly me to the moon

img_4902-2Appropriate to my recent travels, some public outdoor art at the Nashville airport. I came and left in the dark, so the lighting is not the best. This is “Flights of Fantasy,” a tile  mosaic work by local artist Sherri Warner Hunter, installed in 1996 just outside of the ground transportation area. For those familiar with BNA, this work is just out the door from where you check in to get your rental car. It’s meant to be interactive and includes a bench.

Located on the sidewalk near the ground floor entrance of National International Airport in the Ground Transportation area. This is the airport, so lots of parking, pretty much none of it free. Come out and rest a spell and let the little ones play awhile before you run the security gauntlet.img_4903-2

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