Nashville artist Alan LeQuire discusses his career as an artist at the Maury County Public Library, and the importance of public art and nurturing artists in the community. LeQuire also spoke to students and teachers at Central High School during his visit on Thursday. (Staff photo by Mike Christen)
When Nashville artist Alan LeQuire creates his public works of art, they represent what the Nashville community values most and are examples of creative minds coming together for a common purpose.
A portion of LeQuire’s “Dream Forest” traveling exhibit has been a fixture at the Maury County Public Library since March and will remain until the end of December. LeQuire discussed his inspirations, his triumphs as an artist and the difficulties he sometimes must endure to see his vision succeed in the public forum during his visit to Columbia last week.
In his opinion, art is something that should be constantly nurtured within a person or community, rather than a spectator sport for the uneducated masses.
“I’ve always had this attitude that art is something you grow. You nurture it in people, nurture people to pursue their interests and to better their skills. It’s not something you bring from the outside and subject your people to,” he said.
“Columbia and Maury County are already full of artists, you just have to look for them. I could never have done what I did if I didn’t have people nurturing me the whole way.”
Bringing Dream Forest to Columbia was one of the first projects of The Columbia Arts Council in an effort to build a larger community for local artists.
“This particular installation is a wonderful way for the Columbia Arts Council to begin celebrating the arts … because it is a place of so many great artists,” arts council member Lucy Scott Kuykendall said.
LeQuire spoke to about 100 art students and teachers at Central High School, where he was asked a range of questions regarding technique, what inspires him and how to overcome the difficulties of working with certain mediums.
“They were very polite and it was fun,” he said. “They asked about clay since it’s one of my primary mediums. Apparently, some of them have been frustrated working with clay because it dries out, shrinks and cracks. So we talked about how you continue to work with clay over time, and they asked some technical questions like ‘How much does the Athena weigh?’”
At the library, LeQuire shared what he believed motivates art and how each of his major public works like the “Athena Parthenos” at the Parthenon and the “Musica” grouping of dancers at the roundabout on Music Row, were community-driven efforts.
“With Athena, one of the best aspects of that project was that it was mostly volunteer labor and there was a huge community spirit that sort of developed around it,” LeQuire said. “It was a fun project, but took forever and was about eight years in the making.”
He is currently working on a five-figure sculpture to honor the women’s suffrage movement, and Tennessee’s role as the 36th and final state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment. The 7-foot “heroic-scale” figures depict Carrie Chapman Catt, Anne Dallas Dudley, Abby Crawford Milton, Frankie Pierce and Sue Shelton White, the real women involved in the movement, and will most likely be finished in the Spring of 2016, he said.
“In Tennessee, that’s one of our claims to fame. It’s the only time we made federal law in Tennessee,” LeQuire said. “It’s a statue with five full-length portraits of women who were here in 1920 when they ratified the 19th Amendment.”
The sculpture’s base will include three more female political trailblazers in relief-form, including former Rep. Lois DeBerry, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and former Public Service Commissioner Jane Eskin, the first woman to win a statewide election in Tennessee. It also coincides with the election of Nashville’s first female mayor, Megan Barry.
LeQuire encourages the public to visit his studio off Charlotte Avenue in Nashville, where guests can not only watch LeQuire and his team at work, but also enroll in art classes, which he said is welcome to all skill levels.
“I have a class every Tuesday night where we work on a model,” he said. “I have really good professional artists who come, but they’re mixed in with people who might not have any experience whatsoever. I see those people learning from each other and it’s a great thing.”