The Mural on Church Street
By Jim Hornsby
The Work & Greer Building at Sixth Avenue and Church Street is modest when compared with the towering structures around it that define Nashville’s skyline, but it is second to none as a city treasure. It is a jewel of outdoor art that delights tourists and locals alike with its charm and beauty.
You’ve seen it. It catches your eye as you walk or drive along Church Street. It’s the backdrop for the small park across from the library; the building with the mural on the side.
And what a mural it is. Painted by Franklin artist Michael Cooper, the overall painting is 45 feet high, 135 feet long, and whimsically depicts three men and a dog putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle. That would be interesting enough in itself, but as you look at it, you see that the puzzle is a puzzle within a puzzle. As the pieces are assembled, they become the mural, and the mural, through Michael’s artful magic, becomes a more ornate building, with architectural elements so well painted they blend flawlessly with the real thing.
The mural is remarkable, but equally remarkable is the story of how it came to be. When Ronny Greer and Dwight Work bought the building in 1997, it had been standing vacant for several years, and vandalized to the degree that it needed significant renovation. A fire next door had destroyed three of the four buildings that faced Church Street, and the entire area had become an embarrassing eyesore. Despite all that, Ronny and Dwight took a chance with the purchase because they wanted to help revitalize this historically important section of town.
The city’s decision to build the library and park on Church Street was a big boost for the area, but as the plans were made, it became apparent that the wall of the Work & Greer Building, now exposed behind the park, needed to be beautified to compliment the park. The idea of a mural pleased everyone, and Sandra Duncan of the Metro Arts Commission organized a committee to design the mural and solicit donations for the project. The committee came up with the clever jigsaw puzzle idea as a cost-effective way to achieve an interesting mural with a limited budget.
Finished in 1998, the mural won the Mayor’s Beautification Award that year and earned a host of compliments from the public. It was so well received that Ronny and Dwight, at their own expense, commissioned Michael to paint a second mural on the other side of their building so all their neighbors could enjoy the excellent artwork.
The figures putting the pieces together in the mural are Michael and Dwight on the scaffolding and Ronny in the window on the upper left. The dog is “Butler” the same beloved pet who is depicted in “Butler’s Run” on Second Avenue.
Many people generously gave their time and money for this project, and it would be impossible to list them all in this short article, but their efforts are genuinely appreciated. Good things rarely just happen; they happen because good people make them happen, and we as a city owe a debt of gratitude to all the good people who made the Church Street mural happen.