A Hike with Art in Nashville

A few weekends ago, we visited the Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail at the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville.

We saw Blue Presher by James Turrell.

Blue Presher by James Turrell

And Untitled (In A Dream) by Jenny Holzer “in a dream you saw a way to survive you were full of joy.”

Untitled (In A Dream), Jenny Holzer

The primary motivation to visit Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art was to experience a James Turrell’s sky space. They are large and site-specific. He lists 47 sky spaces on his website, but they are not always in the most widely advertised places.  After hiking for an hour, we could not find the sky room, and we were running out of time. The map labels 132 specific trees, but none of the (large, Cheekwood Sculpture Trailheavy, expensive, permanent) sculptures. They were out of sculpture maps at the visitors center. I called the museum desk from the trail, but their best guess was “close to the beginning.”

We stumbled on the entrance, after pausing for a critical candy break.  We had the sky room to ourselves! It is the kind of environment that is easy to savor and easy to ignore.  I go for the contrast between getting there and being inside. It’s an empty space, a place for nothing, a pause, and an invitation to be aware. Transported, you have the chance to sense newness. Among other ideas, the work has “journey.” And this keeps me coming back. The black sand in the center will bring the littles back.

The sculpture trail is a 1.5 mile dirt trail through the woods, up and down a few hills, and looping back to the beginning (or not).  The sculptures are spaced out nicely, so we didn’t go too far without seeing a new one. There is a mix between contemporary, modernist, and realistic sculptures. My kids love searching for the bronze hawk in the tree, which balances out the questions I posed to them about the marble cube in the forest.  With two preschoolers, we needed our all-terrain, double bob. On a good day, oP1020276_2ur four year old would be able to walk it with incentives, but this wasn’t the best day. There are many other paved trails through the gardens for scooters and strollers.

Other highlights on the trail included, Jenny Holzer’s bench…but where was the Mel Chin? We missed that one. My picnic spot for the next visit will be a small amphitheater with a scenic view in the Burr Terrace Gardens. Floating above you is George Rickey’s twenty foot horizontal line. It is a sculpture that is more interesting the longer you wait for it. While you wait, the kids can snack and climb.

The trains exhibit is clearly the family oriented favorite. Close to Parking Lot C and the sculpture trail entrance is the whimsical, woodsy model train exhibit. High and low, they chased and searched for the trains. It captured their imagination the way you want it to. Further into the gardens is a treehouse. Both make for a good balance between what I want to play and what they want to play.

One Line Horizontal Floating - Twenty Feet by George Rickey

For Kids at the Gardens:

What I’m going back for:

  • To see the next Martin Shallenberger Artist-in-Residence project. The 2016 artist has not been announced yet, but the last two artists were Soo Sunny Park and Patrick Dougherty.
  • To have a picnic in the garden from The Food Company or Five Daughter’s Bakery. *The Pineapple Room on site also has picnics.
  • To make a map of the sculpture trail with my kids.
  • To hike the Belle Meade Steps next door.
  • For an early morning jog on the trails or yoga in the gardens.

Art Galleries in Nashville:

Zietgeist  & David Lusk Gallery are next to a bakery. And the The Packing Plant is right around the corner. Three galleries & one cookie- win win!

Other Nashville Travel Links:

Learn More About Turrell:

Play Bubsy3D goes to LACMA for Turrell


Learn More About Holzer:

Jenny Holzer shirts at Uniqlo


UVP On-site: Jenny Holzer at Syracuse Stage from Urban Video Project on Vimeo.


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