From the moment I found free parking at the Church of Christ at Spring Hill until I sat making notes afterward in my leatherbound notebook, the Spring Hill Art Walk, organized by the Spring Hill Arts Center (SHAC), had proven to be a quintessential fall experience. What I mean by “quintessential fall experience” is that, strolling from business to business along the art walk route, the event offered the perfect–and I mean perfect–reason to wander and explore Main Street, to finally see those old buildings up close, with the sidewalk view. And it happened on the most ideal fall day: a chilly blue day, almost electric with the goodwill that cooler temperatures stir in humans who have grown weary of the southern summer heat. I haven’t watched very many Gilmore Girls episodes, but I’ve seen enough to know that Stars Hollow, Connecticut, is the epitome of smalltown yearning; it’s the fictional representation of what people who romanticize small towns imagine them to be, or what they would like them to be. And on that day–exactly one week ago from when I’m writing this blog post–Spring Hill, Tennessee, delivered an ideal smalltown experience. I’m glad I was there to experience it.
My walk began with some unintentional dark humor. As with any event where guitar players set up and perform for the entertainment of casual listeners, songs will sometimes be played that clash with the general mood. There was a man in front of Jack of Hearts BBQ playing Kansas’s “Dust in the Wind,” and I couldn’t help but laugh a little at hearing him repeat the line “all we are is dust in the wind” at this event that was more-or-less a celebration of life. It’s like a few summers ago at Harvey Park, when people were gathered for an annual summer event called Pickin’ in the Park, and the host opened with Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark.” All these families are gathered in front of a little pavilion, watching and waiting, and the first line of the song is: “Love of mine, someday you will die.” Hilarious, right? But in a dark kind of way. Anyway, moving on to the first art.
The artist’s name was Rebecca Emily Lang, and the painting I was most drawn to was of a gnarled, black-and-brown leafless tree, or it had the general form of such a tree, and it appeared to have been produced by a kind of splattering, flowing method, centered on the canvas and radiating outward–a very fluid use of paint. I hope I’m describing the painting justly; I didn’t get a chance to talk to the artist. I might not have anyway, because I’m pretty shy in these situations. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the piece, and it was here that I got my first taste of the broader purpose of the Spring Hill Art Walk. Not only is it about local artists showing their work, it’s also an opportunity for local businesses to introduce themselves to members of the community. Rebecca Emily’s work was set up in front of the Caliber Home Loans/Spring Hill Realty building, not one of the old buildings I so admire but a Main Street presence nonetheless. Off to the side was a canopy with a few tables and chairs beneath. There was free food and a fair amount of people milling about. I didn’t partake, but I thought the gesture was nice. A chipper Allstate agent told me about a drawing they were having, and she grabbed my elbow gently before I walked away, a move which struck me as professional yet awkwardly personal. It seemed like a bold move: grab a stranger’s elbow. But I guess it was just a way to make contact, to come across as personable, something possibly learned in a training session and whipped out at networking events.
From there I made my way to Fireflies, a place I’ve been curious about for a while, because I spend a lot of time at The Fainting Goat Coffee Company next door, and I’m always seeing it through the window. With various large wares on display outside and bright pumpkins in a rusted truck-bed, I was glad to finally be visiting the store. The best way I know to describe Fireflies is to say it is a boutique filled with unique, craft-based home decor of a country bent but not kitschy. Among my favorite things were candles that had been poured inside beer and wine bottles. The necks of the bottles had been removed and the glass smoothed, but their labels remained intact. There was also a respectable amount of vintage-looking Halloween decor, which I always love.
Leaving Fireflies, I couldn’t resist stopping in at The Fainting Goat. Co-owner Susana Allen was busy behind the espresso bar, and we talked about how there was more eccentricity in Spring Hill than one might expect. Then she told me a little about Tim Hodge, one of the artists set up in the coffee shop’s backroom. It turns out he’s well-known among illustrators and animators, having worked at Walt Disney Animation Studios at an earlier point in his career. I gather he’s mostly doing freelance work now, but an online search reveals an impressive resume. His oil-on-panel paintings were a highlight of the art walk.
Moving up Main Street, I discovered that two of downtown Spring Hill’s old churches were official stops on the art walk. These are places I drive by regularly, and until last Saturday, their interiors were a mystery. Inside the little white Grace Episcopal Church, I learned about and got to hear the church’s almost one-hundred-and-thirty-year-old pipe organ. Standing in the sanctuary of the quaint carpenter-Gothic building, I had an eerie sense of the passage of time.
Across the street stands the Spring Hill United Methodist Church, wherein I discovered another pipe organ, slightly larger, majestically filling its arched enclosure. Also inside the church, I met one of the featured artists of the Spring Hill Art Walk, a man named Sketch Bourque (which must surely be a play on the word “sketchbook”). His comparatively large pieces commanded attention, particularly a monochromatic green picture of a woman looking back over her shoulder. Others were filled with symbols I didn’t recognize but that must have held secret meanings. Mr. Bourque was a friendly, talkative host, simultaneously praising the church’s interior and lamenting the glare from the sanctuary’s skylights on his glass-protected drawings.
One of my final stops was the Spring Hill Antique Mall, a place for which I’ve already documented my fascination in an earlier post. Owner Rebecca Stilwell greeted me warmly, and I was taken in yet again by the mystique and aura that hangs thickly in the air there. It’s as if all the decades-worth of objects, carefully arranged in their booths, somehow conspire to bid you welcome. The place may be haunted, I don’t know. There’s conjecture among people who believe in such things that our spirits can attach themselves to objects. It might be a bunch of hooey, but once inside the Spring Hill Antique Mall, one starts to question whether there may be some validity to those claims. If there is an overall spirit there, it’s a benevolent one. Conversely, if there are no spirits, then the place is, at the least, a testament to the power of imagination. There were a few artists set up in the antique mall, but I failed to get their names. One of them generously explained her process for creating acrylic flow paintings. My failure to get her name or take any pictures of her work are evidence that, by this point, I was satiated. This happens every time I visit a gallery or museum: there is a tipping point at which I lose the ability to take in any more information. I have to retreat home and process the information I’ve already absorbed, with the intention of returning later to take in whatever I might have missed. Unfortunately, the Spring Hill Art Walk is a once-a-year event, and it only lasts for a few hours. The best I can hope for is a chance to tie up loose ends the next year.
Returning to my car, walking against a stiff breeze and shielding my eyes from the low October sun, I felt I’d just had a quintessential fall experience. It’s not that art is limited to a season, but rather that art might be one of the best reasons to get out and enjoy autumn’s seasonal changes. We wait a long time in Middle Tennessee for cooler temperatures, and when they come, there are those among us who breathe a little easier and tread a little lighter. An art walk in a picturesque town must be one of the best ways to enter into this charmed time of year.