After touring its acres of manicured grounds, artfully arranged botanicals, outdoor installations and historic mansion, it can be surprising to realize that the Cheekwood Estate & Gardens in Belle Meade also has a modern wing housing visual art. Even more impressive is to find that when this section is not occupied by a traveling exhibition, it is filled with astounding selections from the Cheekwood Permanent Collection of Fine Art, including historically significant examples of American impressionism, abstract expressionism, pop art and more.
In its current exhibition from the collection, running until January 5, 2020, visitors will find work by renowned founders of the Ashcan School William Glackens and John Sloan, Nashville native and pop art trailblazer Red Grooms and postwar abstractionist Helen Frankenthaler. All together, it is more than enough to make the Cheekwood collection one of the most critical and impressive assemblages of 20th century American art anywhere in the world. And when a particular selection is on display, as it is now, it’s enough to make visitors wonder just how many more gems are still in storage.
In addition to about 600 paintings, the Cheekwood Permanent Collection of Fine Art includes thousands of prints, drawings, photographs and sculptures, most of which were created by American artists between 1910 and 1970. The collection was founded in 1959 when the Nashville Museum of Art turned over its holdings and, through millions of dollars in new acquisitions, has been growing ever since.
And, even among the incredibly historic and well-known paintings currently on display, Jon Carsman’s Birds in Flight stand out. At more than 5-foot tall and 4-foot wide, the work from 1974 draws attention from the brightly-colored impressions and large-scale abstractions of its colleagues — not least because of the stark contrast of shadow and color and thickly-rendered outlines of Carsman’s style.
“Carsman isolates strong areas of color in juxtaposition with dark outline, the colors become crystallized motifs with a sparkling, jewel-like quality,” as auction house RoGallery explained. “Color is the greatest emotional factor in painting and Carsman uses this device very successfully. Carsman paints broad areas of vivid high-key tones with a surprising effect that creates a dynamic interplay of light and shadow.”
Born among the Appalachian Mountain Range in Pennsylvania, Carsman is best known for depictions of natural and rural scenes in his trademark thickly-outlined style. In good company with Cheekwood’s other samples of distinctly American painting, Birds in Flight is recognized for its contemporary take on realism and working class sensibility, attitudes that reflect the moment in which it was painted and Carsman’s larger influence on American art at the time.
Carsman’s work was widely exhibited in the ’60s and ’70s, featured at Brooklyn College, the Phoenix Art Museum and the Coventry Gallery in Melbourne, Australia, among other places. Today, his work resides in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, among others. He passed away in 1987.
The Cheekwood Estate & Gardens are located in Belle Meade, 1200 Forrest Park Drive.