We all know Nashville rightfully earned the epithet “Music City” because of its dominance in the recording industry and population teeming with talented singers and songwriters. Dozens of people move to Nashville a day chasing a dream and driving down I-40 until they hit the city that houses the Ryman and the Grand Ole Opry. Although music is the cornerstone of the Tennessee capital, murals are a popular art attraction that have tourists lining up on streets akin to a popular concert. In this mural mini-series, I’m exploring the story behind the popular murals whose hashtags are lighting up Instagram like hot country hits fire up the Billboard charts. First up: the Gulch angel wings.
Murals are spread throughout the city and offer a visual commentary on the history, culture, and style of Music City. In the Gulch, Kelsey Montague has created an interactive mural that has helped make the #WhatLiftsYou hashtag go viral. After Taylor Swift posted a picture posing with Montague's wings in Nolita, NY, Kelsey's work has been recognized globally and Nashville's wall got similar recognition, causing lines of tourists and locals alike to loop around the Gulch district in search for a picture with the renown wings. The locally acclaimed "bonuts" found at Biscuit Love around the corner now have some stiff competition in terms of raking in locals and tourists.
Photo: Kelsey Montague
According to Montague, she paints as an escape and wishes for her designs to become interactive art in which the community can take part. Nashville's "What Lifts You" mural is a perfect example of integrating the pulse of the locale to her artistic composition: it features wings emblazoned with guitars and music notes. The wings also represent a spirituality that links harmoniously with the creativity that seeps through the citizens of Nashville. Having visited Nashville many times, Montague notes that “Music is of course everywhere, the people are kind, and I just feel like there is a tangible warmth to that city.”
If you follow Montague’s work, you will notice that she integrates the personality of a city into each mural. Nashville’s wings are complete with instruments, while a pair of her wings in Universal Studios, Los Angeles feature a television screen and stars. In Annapolis, passerby will see a ship, anchor, and crabs throughout the design. Her murals are worth a closer look to appreciate the detail and thematic choices. The inspiration of using wings evolved from her grandpa’s art. As a child, Kelsey would spend time in his studio and search for birds throughout his work.
Photo: Kelsey Montague
Taking a picture with a Montague mural not only offers an opportunity for partakers to create a photographic memory of an experience, but also prompts them to reflect on what lifts their spirits. By stepping into Montague's interactive canvas, the art allows subjects to integrate themselves into the mural and become the highlight of the piece. Essentially, it is incomplete without someone stepping in to give it total life. Montague wants everyone who steps into her work to feel beautiful.
The historic Gulch district has experienced recent revitalization that has intersected its industrial past with a modern future. It has attracted young city dwellers, causing an explosion of restaurants (like the aforementioned Biscuit Love, among others), residential buildings, and concert venues to answer to the demand of hip hot spots. Railroad terminals have been overhauled into rustic venues perfect for grabbing a drink, enjoying a concert, or sinking your teeth into a delicious meal. Kelsey's mural is a perfect spot for people to stop and think about what matters to them in the middle of a bustling neighborhood, so take a moment to stop and reflect.
Heather Brown, a Nashville Guide writer
Hailing from the Old Dominion, I've easily adapted my "Virginia is for Lovers" slogan to the "Nashville is for Music Lovers" lifestyle. After moving to Music City from Oklahoma City, I've explored middle Tennessee through the lens of artists' paintbrushes and urban canvasses. I've enjoyed eating, sipping, and dancing my way through Tennessee's capital while pausing periodically to strike a pose throughout the journey.