Though Nashville’s galleries and museums have been forced to close to the public, the area has maintained access to local visual art in enduring ways. Many curators are exhibiting planned collections online, local museums are offering remote programming and at least one neighborhood source of visual art is displaying inspiration as usual.
The Nashville Sign, a billboard that has stood at the forked intersection of Broadway and West End Avenue since the 1940s, persists as one of the city’s most prominent outlets in a time of isolation, when entertainment and arts venues are closed but many are still traveling the thoroughfare in their cars. Since New Year’s Eve 2015, the Nashville Sign has featured a 34×36-foot digital LED screen, rotating advertisements, calls to actions and local art.
Recently, that has meant passersby can see Native Women Warriors: Lozen, an encaustic wax portrait by Nashville-based artist Alison Fullerton.
Fullerton’s work has long been built around “visual anthropology narratives,” which consist of series about different cultures or groups of people. A new series of “Native Women Warriors” pieces was inspired by her recent return to the U.S. after living abroad in Germany and a desire to apply that narrative approach to indigenous Americans.
“I wondered if there were any untold stories of native women who spurned traditional roles of sewing, weaving and cooking,” Fullerton told Art of Nashville. “I researched the stories of Lozen, Running Eagle and Buffalo Calf Trail Woman; all 19th century Native Women warriors who overcame patriarchal stereotypes to become leaders, fighting to protect their land. I decided this needed to be my American anthropology: their stories of resilience.”
Lozen was a warrior and prophet of the Chihenne Chiricahua Apache, born in 1840, who fought against white Americans who appropriated her peoples’ homeland and tried to force them to live on a reservation. It was believed that she could use supernatural powers to learn the movements of her enemies in battle.
The emphasis on resilience that Fullterton described is evident in her portrait of Lozen. The warrior stares unflinchingly and confidently at the viewer, rendered with a bold color palette. The theme is all the more striking when the piece is displayed three stories high above traffic and especially poignant at a time when the world over is struggling to maintain resilience in the face of an unprecedented health crisis.
In fact, Fullerton’s “Native Women Warriors” series was selected for appearance on The Nashville Sign specifically because of the resilience it inspires. It was chosen by ArtPOP, a nonprofit focused on showcasing visual art through billboards and other outdoor media to inspire those feeling overwhelmed during the coronavirus pandemic, the artist explained.
The portrait is notable for the technical unique approach Fullerton employed as well. Encaustic wax is a technique that dates back to ancient Egypt and involves heating pigmented beeswax and resin to 180 or 200 degrees, then building it on the canvas in layers that are fused with a blowtorch or iron.
“It dries quickly, so figurative encaustic takes painting fast and expressively,” Fullerton explained. “There are not many encaustic artists who do portraits, but I met a few while living overseas and I trained with them in Denmark, Ireland and France.”
The result is a respite for those who have missed the experience of seeing local art in person, inspiration for those who may not have realized they needed it and a reminder to all of us that resilience will carry us through this uncertain time.
Fullerton attended the Rochester Institute of Technology School for American Crafts and her work has been exhibited throughout the Nashville area, Europe and elsewhere. She’s a member of the Nashville Artist Guild and International Encaustic Artists.
The Nashville Sign is located at 1616 Broadway.