Who better to provide a guide of Nashville than a Nashville native, through and through? Raised on the outskirts of the so-called Music City, artist and west elm LOCAL maker Louisa Glenn has been living in the region her entire life. “Now that the city is growing by leaps and bounds, I feel like being a true native Nashvillian has earned me a sort of unicorn status,” she jokes. “What I love about Nashville is that I can spend half my weekend living the big city life, but then retreat to the countryside and take some deep breaths. Moving back was one of the best decisions I’ve made—it’s constantly changing, but still feels like home.” Louisa kindly set aside some time to take us on a tour of the spaces around Nashville that inspire her—and her artwork—the most. Join along as she gives us an insider’s look at her city and her work!
Painting: “High noon” — Inspired by noonday sun shining, the brightness of a weekend, and the suspension of time. 40”x40”, acrylic and graphite on canvas.
My neighborhood is perfect for some serious Saturday putzing. When I moved back to town in 2014 and found an apartment mere blocks from my childhood home, it felt terrifyingly full-circle and wonderfully comforting all at the same time. Nashville is divvied up into little neighborhoods, and I’m right between Hillsboro Village and Belmont. Hillsboro village is where I meet my grandmother every Saturday morning for breakfast and a catch-up. It’s had so many facelifts, but there are pieces of it left that I love: the Village Cleaners sign has always brought me joy, and I’m waiting with eager anticipation for the Belcourt Theater to reopen after what looks like a beautiful renovation. I also love shuffling over to Bongo Java on Belmont for coffee—look up “Nun Bun” and I promise you won’t be disappointed. And then for lunch you can hit up Brown’s Diner, another Nashville institution. I can say with certainty that it’s the most unassuming restaurant, with the best burger in town.
Nashville offers up a wealth of unexpected beauty: lettering, color, shape. The afternoon summer light and shadows on the Parthenon at Centennial Park are so warm, the lines so clean and architecturally pleasing. The old May Hosiery building over in Wedgewood-Houston with its paint peeling like green lichen and old timecard racks still on the walls – my grandmother worked there when the factory was still operating, and I had my first solo show in a studio there last summer. And how perfect are these stained glass windows from Benton Chapel on the Vanderbilt campus? I’ve tried several of those color combinations in paintings already, and I’m planning some more! And then there’s my dream canvas—734 Jackson Boulevard, where guest artists paint murals on the front façade of the house. I wander by every few months to see what’s new. It’s always a joy and it inspires me to literally dream big.
Painting: “Pinnacle” — Inspired by view of Pinnacle building from I-65N on a sunny morning, lots of clouds and different colors shining off the windows. 36”x48”, acrylic and graphite on canvas.
Y’all. Downtown Nashville is a beautiful free-for-all. Daylife blurs into nightlife and then back again, the neon signs just keep on glowing as bachelorette parties filter through the throngs spilling out on to lower Broadway. It’s a raucous experience, an homage to Country. I didn’t grow up on Country music—strange being from Nashville and all, I know! But I visit the Country Music Hall of Fame at least once a year for the Nudie suits and the glittering wall of gold records. And sitting in the pews for a show at the Ryman Auditorium, aka the Mother Church, is a religious experience with its incredible, all-enveloping sound.
And as much as I love people watching when I cruise through downtown, it’s the buildings that catch my eye—a glorious mish-mash of architectural styles that taper right down to the Cumberland River. I’m painting them, or paintings inspired by them, building by building. It all started with a surprising view of the Pinnacle Building from I-65 in the early morning. It’s a gorgeously blunt building, with planes that catch the sunlight beautifully. And then I’ve recently embraced the Regions building, with black windows making it like an obsidian tower. It’s not the most ornate, but its facets are perfect.
Painting: “Night Ocean” — Reading Rumi’s poetry, fixing on a verse that says “we are the night ocean, filled with glints of light,” I loved the idea of darkness sprinkled with light. I paired this painting with the Farmers market, because it reminds me of a box of blackberries shining in the sun. 24”x30”, acrylic and graphite on canvas.
Nashville’s farmers’ market is… well, it’s incredible. Not only are there a plethora of delectable local produce options, but also an indoor food court featuring cuisines from across the southeast and the world. It’s where our super-hip mayor hosted her victory party after last fall’s election! I take so much inspiration in the natural colors of produce—the nuances of greens and deep purples are especially mesmerizing. And now I have a newfound appreciation for fresh summer radishes! Right next to the Farmers’ Market is the Bicentennial Mall, which tells the history of Tennessee, and slopes right up to the state capitol building. It is a sight to behold on a sunny day.
On the last weekend of the month, I trundle over to the fairgrounds to check out Dead People’s Stuff and other delights. The Nashville Flea truly is a treasure trove of old road signs, animal skulls, re-purposed farm implements—you name it! I love it, I go every month (rain or shine!) and usually take home at least one treasure. My favorite finds have been porcelain molds from an old latex glove factory ($12 each), a heavy-duty metal shop table ($45), and a giant corrugated metal hand to hang on my wall ($30). Even if one person’s trash doesn’t become your treasure, there are so many colors and stacks and shapes to drink in.
Painting: “Heart of Hearts” — Thinking about a 30,000-foot view of a city vs. an intimate understanding of who lives there, and all the beautiful things that happen — a darker exterior with a glowing heart deep inside. 24”x24”, acrylic and graphite on canvas.
East Nashville, East Nashville, how I love thee! Where do I even begin with my adoration? It’s where so much magic happens. I’m usually on the East Side for some sort of celebration, or general shindig, or to eat incredible food. On every second Saturday of the month, you can find me at either Gallery Luperca or Sawtooth Print Shop for the East Side Art Stumble—so many great local artists on display! Combing through the type drawers at Sawtooth and looking at letterpress compositions really makes me think about how I build my own pieces, how the colors and shapes fit tightly together and read cohesively. When I need to cut loose—and cut a rug—my friends and I head over to the 5 Spot, where you can hear bluegrass or throw some serious shapes out on the dance floor during any one of their dance parties. I routinely pull up to No. 308 for a refreshing evening cocktail, and soothe my soul with breakfast from the Nashville Biscuit House. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself kickin’ around in August, you should probably hustle on over to Tomato Art Fest for mass veneration of that mighty fruit/vegetable—however you slice it. East Nashville is so full of energy, the possibilities for urban adventures are endless.
Painting: “The Back 40” — I love looking at the earth from above, with fields spread out below like a lush patchwork. My parents just planted acres and acres of wildflowers for pollinators, and I can’t help but imagine these giant neon fields. 24”x30”, acrylic and graphite on canvas.
I am a city girl at heart, but I do feel the pull of the open countryside, and that’s when I hit the road down to my parents’ farm. They’re an hour south of town, and their 40-acre swatch of rolling hills is where I go to breathe deeply, steep myself in green, watch birds circle overhead, close my eyes and listen to grasses ripple in the wind. It’s utterly delicious, it’s where I allow myself to be a little lazy, and just wander around on small adventures. Sometimes I visit the small nearby towns, where communities are vibrant and extraordinary things happen. Once I judged a beauty pageant at the Marshall County Community Theater, and felt like I was in a Tennessee version of Little Miss Sunshine. And then sometimes I go on a blackberry ramble, or just climb over my parents’ back fence to walk through the back country where there’s nothing but a few old abandoned buildings for miles. My dad has a sawmill and is starting to make furniture, so I’m trying to learn about planing, wood grain, and basic construction. My mom and I spend lots of time cooking, and talking about cooking, and talking about the present and the future, all with steaming pots of coffee, mostly on the front porch. There is so much scope for the imagination out there—it’s completely restorative, and although I do love the city, I’m not sure what I would do without a rural retreat. And then I go back to the city to do it all over again, taking snippets of fields and flora with me.
Thank you for letting me show you some of the things I love about Nashville – come visit us soon!