Over the past few years, street art has exploded onto walls, buildings, and homes in cities across the world. Whether making some type of statement or merely providing a beautiful splash of color on an otherwise bland canvas, murals have become the topic of many conversations and of many Instagram pages. I, for one, am slightly obsessed with them, and my interest has only grown as public art has continued to pop up all across New Orleans. I find myself wandering the streets looking for the big, splashy pieces I have seen on social media, but also searching for hidden gems or new works that might not have been documented by every photographer in the greater New Orleans area. Even when I don’t find something unexpected, I consider my outings a win because seeing even the well-photographed murals in real-life evokes a feeling in me that a photo just can not bring forth.
On a recent trip to Nashville, I found myself with an entire day to myself. After contemplating my choices, I opted to forgo the standard museum tours and honky tonk visits for a mural hunt! With a few online leads and some vague memories of works I had seen on previous trips, I grabbed my camera, loaded some addresses in Google Maps, and headed out. In one particularly trendy area, I discovered walls adorned with pretty flowers, feel-good messages, and lots of “We love our city” type sentiments. I even waited in line to take a pic in front of a patriotic “I Believe in Nashville” mural. A little cheesy, but it seemed like the thing to do. Once I had exhausted this particularly mural-laden area of town, I pulled up the address for a mural called “Silo.” Since I have not spent a great deal of time in Nashville (and when I have, I have been on foot), the address meant nothing to me. I drove west, praying that Google Maps knew its stuff. It was when I made a right turn toward into a neighborhood where industrial meets hipster that I saw it, stretching fifteen stories into the Tennessee sky. “Silo.”
This magnificent mural spoke to me in ways I can not explain. Maybe it was the grain elevator canvas, a staple in the Texas Panhandle, and reminiscent of home for me. Perhaps it was the sheer vastness of it, so large, artist Guido van Helten required a 155-foot crane to complete it. But I am fairly certain it was was the pleasant but weathered face of its subject, Lee Estes, who at the time of the painting in 2017, was 91-years old. Some light research informed me that Mr. Estes has lived in this neighborhood since the 1920s, and continues to reside in a home across the street from the silo. One of my Insta friends shared with me that she knows the granddaughter of Mr. Estes, and said his granddaughter cries a little each time she drives past the painting. And I can completely understand why. I have never met the man, but his gritty, sincere face brought tears to my eyes, as well.
I actually made two trips to West Nashville to see this mural. After returning to my hotel room, I looked up the artist on Instagram and discovered that there was another side to the mural depicting two young boys. (I almost said small, but there is nothing small about this piece.) While they were also interesting and beautifully painted, I ended up taking only a few quick photos of the children, then once again admiring Mr. Estes, now standing amidst a gray, cloud-filled sky. Yes, I did a fair amount of trespassing to get the shots I wanted of this masterpiece, (you can insert your own quote about risk here) but I’ll just say, it was worth the threat of prosecution that was promised. 🙂
I would love to meet Mr. Estes in the real world someday and see if the voice I imagine him having matches the one with which he would greet me. No doubt, he has some great stories to tell. I would love to study the lines on his face…and I wonder if he would wear that same button down shirt and look of puzzlement. I am certain I would have more questions for him than he would have the patience to answer, the first of which would be ‘what is it like to get up every morning and see a 150-foot version of yourself?’ I picture us sitting on his porch in wooden rocking chairs, sipping ice cold lemonade. Or perhaps he would prefer drinking a macchiato from the nearby brunch spot. In my head, he shakes his head at this, but who knows…maybe he’s hipper than I am. I know that this meeting is highly unlikely, so for now, I will be content to make the drive out to the Silo each time I visit Nashville. And since photos just can’t fully capture its magnitude, I hope you will, too.