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Frankie Pierce Park, Part 2

Back in August,  Olasubomi Aka-Bashorun and  Anthony Billups of Music City Murals did a series of murals in the new Frankie Pierce Park. I wrote about the main one in Frankie Pierce Park, Part 1. That mural is on a long wall on the east side of the park, while this is one of two along a railroad underpass on the southwest side of the park.

Frankie Pierce Park is a green space that includes a children’s playground that was built as a public-private partnership between Capitol View, a massive multi-block development, and Metro Parks. It lies in a triangle of land between two elevated railroad lines that separate Capitol View from Capitol Hill.

It honors one of Nashville’s most important Black activists, J. Franke Pierce.  Pierce was a civil rights activist who played an important part in the women’s suffrage movement in Nashville, and who opened the Tennessee Vocational School for Colored Girls in 1923, which remained open until 1979.

It is her key role in the votes for women campaign in Nashville that is the subject of this mural. A parade of women in the long, white dresses of suffragettes dominates the scene. One of them carries a sign that reads, “August 18, 1920.” That was the day Tennessee became the crucial 36th state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote. Of course, Pierce, as a Black woman in the Jim Crow South, was not able to fully exercise that right even after the amendment passed.

The mural includes a quote from Pierce: “We asking only one thing – a square deal.” (May 1920)

Pierce Quote mural Nashville street art

Below you can see it in context with the other underpass mural. If you were standing where this picture was taken, the main mural would be behind you and to your right. The park is to your right in this photo. You can see some of the Capitol View development on the other side of the railroad bridge.

Underpass murals Nashville street art

Located at 130 Lifeway Plaza. That’s the address of the park. The mural is found on the south end of the park, on the southern railroad underpass, right off of Nelson Merry Street. The easiest parking is off of Nelson Merry, which you can see in the bottom image, and at Capitol View.

Part 1

Frankie Pierce Park, Part 1

As part of the massive Capitol View project off of Charlotte Avenue, the developers agreed to create Frankie Pierce Park, a green space that includes a children’s playground that was built as a public-private partnership between Capitol View and Metro Parks. It lies in a triangle of land between two elevated railroad lines that separate Capitol View from Capitol Hill. Real estate folks like to call the area around Capitol View “North Gulch,” but it used to be known as Hell’s Half-Acre, long a Black neighborhood, which was torn down in the mid-twentieth century.

Frankie Pierce Mural Nashville street art

Because of its history, it’s appropriate that the park be named in honor of one of Nashville’s most important Black activists, J. Franke Pierce.  Pierce was a civil rights activist who played an important part in the women’s suffrage movement in Nashville, and who opened the Tennessee Vocational School for Colored Girls in 1923, which remained open until 1979. Her work for women’s voting rights is honored in the Alan LeQuire statue of suffragette activists found in Centennial Park I wrote about in These women came to vote!.

Frankie Pierce Mural Nashville street art

This mural, as well as two others nearby that I’ll post about later, is the work of Anthony Billups of Music City Murals and Olasubomi Aka-Bashorun, and it went up back in August. On his Instagram page, Billups discuss the fact that every day they worked on the mural, they were questioned by police. Billups, who is white, found himself needing to defend Aka-Bashorun, who is Black. Billups says that he has never been questioned by police on any project before, but police repeatedly questioned what Aka-Bashorun was doing. He says:

It was also apparent that when I showed up, the situation de-escalated because I am white. What if I hadn’t been there??

All this while they were working on a mural honoring an important Black activist.

Frankie Pierce Mural Nashville street art

Located at 130 Lifeway Plaza. That’s the address of the park. The mural is found on the south end of the park, on the left side of the eastern railroad bridge, right off of Nelson Merry Street. The easiest parking is off of Nelson Merry, on the other side of the western railroad bridge, at Capitol View.

Part 2

Frankie Pierce Park sign

Threshold (The Cumberland Gear Ring)

One of the quieter of Nashville’s iconic outdoor art works is the giant gear ring embedded in the sidewalk along the East Bank Greenway, down by the Nissan Stadium. It doesn’t have the pizzazz of Ghost Ballet, the twisting red sculpture just a couple hundred yards away that’s impossible to miss from across the river on Lower Broad. It’s not controversial like Musica, the dancing pyramid of nudes just off Music Row. It’s just steady and serene, like a quiet sentinel.

Threshold Ring Nashville street art

There’s no plaque (unusual for city-owned art), so most people don’t know it has a name or any idea who’s behind it. It’s by Joe Sorci and it’s called “Threshold.” (That link is from Facebook. His website requires flash, which many browsers block.) It was installed in 1999, and it’s the product of a grant from the Metro Development and Housing Authority (which may explain the lack of a plaque – Metro Arts is very good about signage). It’s art based on found materials. Like Ghost Ballet, it’s made from objects left behind by the barge companies that used to operate on the east bank. Specifically, it’s the gear from a steam crane that once loaded and unloaded barges.

Gear Ring Sculpture Nashville street art

It’s actually part of a set. Nearby there are some less well known pieces, including a mosaic embedded in the sidewalk and a long bar with a gear on the end. These are also by Sorci and were made from found materials as well. I’ll feature them in a later post.

Threshold sculpture Nashville street art

As you can see, I’ve photographed it in different seasons. I think that just highlights its unchanging solidity. It doesn’t show up on social media as much as some of the flashier art in town, but unless the city removes it, it’s likely be in place much longer than almost anything in town. People do like to get their photos using it as a frame, and an intrepid few climb it and hang from the top for a photo.

Ring sculpture Nashville street art

This image shows how that might be done. The internal partitions provide handholds that could be used as a kind of ladder to get to the top, if someone were willing to try. You didn’t hear that from me.

Gear Sculpture Nashville street art
Two Nashville icons together, Threshold and the Batman Building
  • Ring Sculpture Nashville street art
  • Gear Ring sculpture Nashville street art
  • Threshold sculpture Nashville street art
  • Gear Sculpture Nashville street art

Located on the East Bank Greenway, which parallels Titan’s Way. If you are on the river side of the stadium, its almost directly lined up with the middle of the stadium. There’s some free parking for the park on the other side of the pedestrian bridge that lies south of the ring.

House of Blues Fences of Fame, Part 3

Travelling clockwise around Columbine Park in Berry Hill, coming from Bransford Avenue, the third fence you come to is one of the youngest. I know from happenstance that the artist, Scott Guion, must have been working on it October, 2017, because I have a photo of from thent where the sign portion (see the photo at the bottom if the post) is white, the sign not yet painted. It’s one of several around the park sponsored by the Nashville branch of the House of Blues. The House of Blues calls them the “Wall of Fame,” but for obvious reasons, I went with “fences.”

BH Faces mural Nashville street art
Bob Marley, Minnie Pearl, Amy Winehouse

This fence is not as dense as the first two, featuring only six artists. It’s also a bit more consistent with ages, showing all of them in the middle/leat-middle stages of their careers, expect of course for Amy Winehouse, who of died young of alcohol positioning. All of them are icons of their genres. We see our first artist on the fences who is not primarily known for music, but rather comedy, Minnie Pearl. Bob Marley, James Brown, Prince, and Waylon Jennings round out an extraordinary list. One thing that is different about this fence from the fist two, it’s the first of the fences I’ve featured in which all of the artists are dead.

BH Faces mural Nashville street art
James Brown, Prince, Waylon Jennings

The blue house in the back was also decorated by Guion, as was the bit of fence in the back ground you can see in the picture at the bottom.

BH Faces Sign mural Nashville street art

See Part 1 of this series for why I’m just now writing about these murals. Spoiler alert: You can finally park in Berry Hill.

Located at 520 East Iris Drive. The mural faces south towards the park. Parking is available around the park.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 4 Part 5

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

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.

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.

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