Artisans & Oddities
What’s interesting, unique, and unusual around town? Gallatin has more than its share of artisans and oddities. Here are some of the best.
Antique Farm Implements at Farm Bureau Insurance
You could spend a day looking and still not see it all.
There’s more than meets the eye at the Farm Bureau Insurance office on the corner of US 31E and N. Boyers Ave. Hidden inside is one of the area’s largest collections of farm-related antiques. According to Agency Manager Josh Gilmore, this treasure trove was amassed by Hugh Love, who served as Agency Manager for the Sumner County Farm Bureau for thirty-two years. “Hugh was a big history guy, and he collected these items most all of his life,” Josh said. “The majority of everything is from Sumner County.”
Many of the historic items are mounted on walls made of chestnut wood gathered from two old barns in northern Sumner County. Hundreds of items cover the walls, including farm implements, tools, nails, arrowheads, kitchenware, an old musket, a pit saw, a butter churn, a replica of a Chinese repeating crossbow, and two massive, petrified hornets nests. Though the collection isn’t an official tourist attraction, it’s a source of amazement for clients and visitors. “When people come in, they’re taken aback, because it is very unusual for an insurance office to have a collection like this,” Josh added. “If these walls could talk, they would tell quite a story.”
The Muffler Man at Four Way Mufflers & Motors
Tourists come from all over the world to be photographed next to this iconic fiberglass sculpture.
Drive out of Gallatin on East Broadway and look to the left just after you pass the entrance to Triple Creek Park. There he is: The Muffler Man standing tall in front of Four Way Mufflers & Motors. Now owned by Shawn Fennell, this 25 ft. tall, molded fiberglass sculpture has quite a back story.
The Four Way Muffler Man was built in 1965 in Van Nuys, California. He is one of the many figures placed as advertising icons, roadside attractions, and decorations throughout the U.S. While these iconic fiberglass figures are no longer manufactured, many still exist. Those that do are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Shawn bought his Muffler Man in 2015. “I was wanting some kind of big statue here, like a gorilla in the front of my shop,” Shawn remembers. “I did some searching and found the USA Giants website, which shows where all the remaining Muffler Man statues are located. I started making phone calls to see if anyone was willing to sell. Nobody would. Not even actor Dennis Hopper, who had three of them.”
Shawn didn’t give up; he kept searching. Eventually, he discovered that a landscape nursery in El Monte, California had a statue. The owner had passed away. Shawn called the business and eventually spoke to the owner’s sister. She agreed to sell him the statue. “I was in the right place at the right time,” Shawn laughs. “They’re incredibly hard to get. I bought the only one that had been sold in the last twenty years.”
Shawn’s Muffler Man was originally made for the town of El Monte to be on a golf course. When El Monte city officials learned about the sale, they tried to block it. Fortunately, Shawn prevailed.
When it came to moving the behemoth statue more than 2,000 miles, Shawn was again at the right place at the right time. “The cost was mostly covered by the TV show Shipping Wars,” said Shawn. The popular TV series on A&E follows heavy-duty movers as they battle for the chance to transport items traditional carriers won't touch. “They filmed the Muffler Man traveling across the U.S. on a flatbed truck. Everywhere the truck stopped, it drew a crowd. In fact, five people tried to buy the statue from me along the way.”
Once the Muffler Man arrived in Gallatin, Shawn’s troubles weren’t over. The city’s sign ordinance hadn’t been written with a giant statue in mind. “Nothing in the regulations anticipated a 25-foot Muffler Man,” he said, “but after some research, city officials eventually allowed us to install the statue. It was a win-win for everyone.”
Since Shawn erected the statue in front of his shop, he has manufactured a muffler for his Muffler Man to hold. He also decorates him for holidays. A few Christmases ago, the Muffler Man was dressed as Clark Griswold in the movie Christmas Vacation. In the meantime, the purchase offers haven’t stopped. “The city of Nashville tried to buy him,” Shawn said. “They wanted to put him on Music Row and put a guitar in his hand.”
The Muffler Man at Four Way Mufflers & Motors is an unexpected tourist attraction thanks to articles in national and international media, and thanks to websites like RoadsideAmerica and USAGiants, which list the GPS coordinates of the remaining statues. Hundreds of people have come to Gallatin to have their pictures taken with the Four Way Muffler Man. “Every summer, they start showing up,” Shawn said. “Apparently, there's a competition each year. People will fly up here, jump out of their cars, take a picture of it, and ask me to sign a little statement confirming they were here. They come from everywhere.”
“I bought it for a joke,” Shawn laughed, “and it turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
Flower Baskets in the City
A partnership between Gallatin’s Public Works and two local high schools brings beauty to the square.
Stroll around Gallatin’s historic square on a summer day and notice the hanging flower baskets filled with colorful petunias. Who maintains these lovely streetside amenities? Zack Wilkinson, the director of Gallatin’s Public Works Department, can answer that question. “The Public Works Department took over responsibility for the hanging basket project about five years ago,” said Zach. “In the past, we paid a local nursery to provide the flowers. Then, a few years ago, we started having trouble getting bids, so we talked to the local high schools to see if they might be interested in growing the flowers for us.”
For the last two years, horticulture students in the National FFA Organization at Gallatin High School and Station Camp High School have handled the project in a successful partnership that shows no signs of slowing. “Students grow the petunias in the schools’ greenhouses, and then we put the baskets out and keep them alive all summer,” Zach said. “It saves the city money and provides the FFA clubs with financial support.”
Educators Ally Choate at Station Camp High School and Rebecca Morgan at Gallatin High School teach agriculture classes and oversee the FFA programs at their respective schools. Both are closely involved in the city’s flower basket project. “The baskets for the City of Gallatin have quickly become one of our favorite projects,” Ally said. “It’s nice to be able to give back and see our students’ hard work on display in the community. Our involvement is very much centered around making sure the plants are healthy and ready to be placed around town. The project is done in many steps from disinfecting materials to installing the plants and caring for them throughout the entire spring semester.”
The effort is always worth the end result. “Putting baskets together is a three-person job that requires a lot of patience for detail,” Rebecca explained. “But once the flowers start to bloom, students are always thrilled, knowing they were the ones who grew them.”
The COVID-19 pandemic created major challenges for the project in 2020, especially for the teachers. “Once COVID-19 hit, it was up to me to take care of the baskets at the Gallatin High School greenhouse,” said Rebecca. “During quarantine, I went in every three days to check on the baskets. I set up an automatic system that watered every morning and afternoon for forty-five minutes. Students reached out to me during quarantine to ask how their baskets were doing.”
Ally agreed. “Even with the challenges we faced due to COVID-19, we came together through teamwork and perseverance,” she said. “In fact, we had an overwhelming response to our online sales, making the 2020 Annual Greenhouse sale one of the best.”
Despite the behind-the-scenes drama, the flowers lived. The city’s Public Works employees hung the baskets for everyone to enjoy and maintained them throughout the heat of the summer. “Once the baskets were placed around the square, my students emailed me to let me know how proud they were,” Rebecca added. “Students take great pride in creating the beautiful baskets for the City of Gallatin.”
History Comes Alive in Gallatin Murals
The official muralist of the Country Music Hall of Fame puts his talent to work for Gallatin.
Gallatin is home to three beautiful murals created by Bryan Deese, a Gallatin-based artist who has created hundreds of murals throughout Nashville and the southeast. In addition to serving as the official muralist for the Country Music Hall of Fame, Bryan created murals for the 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville and has been commissioned for many projects for the Bonnaroo Music Festival.
His interest in painting murals in Gallatin started not long after moving here from Nashville in 2010. “Murals add a lot to a community from a sense of civic pride and bringing art and creativity to the community,” Bryan said.
His first work for the city was a mural of Ray Underhill, Jr., a Gallatin native who was Tennessee's first professional skateboarder. Bryan painted this mural on a wall next to the skate park in Thompson Park.
Next, Bryan proposed murals on the sides of two buildings on Franklin Street. City officials were able to secure funding through a state grant and commissioned Bryan for the project.
The mural at 110 W. Franklin St. depicts the history of trains and trolleys in Gallatin. The mural at 122 Franklin St. portrays Eddie Sherlin, a guard for Gallatin High School, and Bill Ligon, a forward for Union High School, who played each other for the first—and last--time at a basketball tournament in 1970, the last year any school districts could be segregated under federal law.
Bryan sees his murals as a way to celebrate local history and culture. “You’re telling people it’s important; they’re important,” he said. “It’s their story.”
Student and professional artists come together to turn trash bins into treasure.
If you think trash containers are, by definition, unattractive, drive out to the Gallatin Public Works complex on Long Hollow Pike and take a look at the recycling bins. Among the cold steel dumpsters, you’ll find beautifully painted recycling bins.
Who is responsible for these unexpected works of art? The project was the brainchild of Dianna Johnson, an administrative assistant at the Gallatin Public Works office and secretary for the city’s Beautification Committee. Constantly scanning the horizon for grant opportunities for the city, Dianna learned about funds available from Bonnaroo Works. “When we applied for the grant, our goal was to beautify the recycling center and to showcase local artists,” Dianna said. “We also wanted to create an opportunity for local high school students to work with a professional artist by painting their bins at the same time.”
Artist Bryan Deese was commissioned to paint three of the recycling containers. “I worked with the Gallatin Beautification Committee and came up with three designs that were about civic pride and community,” he said, noting that themes for the bins included Gallatin Strong, Gallatin United, and Gallatin is the Coolest.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, students from Gallatin High were able to finish a mural of Monet’s Water Lilies on one of the bins. But community lockdowns stalled the project. “I was envisioning the students working alongside the artist, and I was disappointed the COVID-19 situation kept that from happening,” added Dianna.
The city eventually purchased two more recycling bins with the intention of having students paint them in school spirit colors. “The students from Gallatin were able to complete their spirit bin despite the pandemic,” said Dianna, “but the kids from Station Camp had to put theirs on hold.”
TD Gallery Custom Framing and Fine Arts
Paintings of wildlife, equine, and landscapes are just the tip of the iceberg at this Gallatin gem.
If you want to be inspired, go to the corner of South Water and East Smith Streets and walk through the doors of TD Gallery Custom Framing and Fine Arts. This little shop is filled with art, including stunning wildlife, equine, and landscape works by founder Toby Delk, a Sumner County native who has been painting professionally for more than fifteen years.
Toby decided to open a gallery to give his work more exposure and to showcase the work of other Sumner County artists. The gallery also offers custom framing services. Toby learned the framing business from Robert Hendricks, a well-known local framer who retired after forty years.
As an artist, Toby was playing with paintbrushes before he could walk. At fourteen, he began studying with the renowned local artist Marion Bryant Cook. Blessed with a photographic memory and a clear vision, Toby excelled. “I explored a variety of different arts, different styles, and subjects at first, eventually focusing on the colorful Fauvism,” Toby explained. “My style was to use the darker tones on the main subject to give it a touch of realism.”
As the years passed, Toby’s style evolved. More recently, his attention has turned toward wildlife, horses, and landscapes. In fact, if you enjoy bird art, you’ll see many such works at TD Gallery, including a haunting image of a red-winged blackbird on a muted darker background. Toby cites the legendary naturalist, painter, and ornithologist John James Audubon as a major inspiration. Mr. Audubon would be honored by the association.
The Artisan Hatchery
Stop by for truly unique items made by Sumner County creatives, then schedule some art on demand.
The Artisan Hatchery is an artisan cooperative, a nest of artists who have come together to bring their talents to the retail market. The store launched in 2018 when Rebecca Ehlmling, a long-time painter of found furniture, was approached by a friend about opening a store to sell works by Gallatin-area artists and artisans. When Rebecca saw the empty storefront on North Water Street, she could see the potential. The Artisan Hatchery opened for business that October.
Today, the space is a feast for the eyes, filled with color, beauty, and light. In addition to Rebecca’s hand-painted furniture items and repurposed 1970s jewelry boxes, you’ll find distinctive oil paintings by Debby Locke, watercolor and chalk paintings by Penelope Jane, freshwater pearl jewelry designed by Debby Haddock, custom-designed tumblers by Helena Miller, art created on the pages of old books by Vivian Miller, hand-made pottery by Garrett Birchfield, and handmade soaps and lotions by Tonya Hillard.
The Artisan Hatchery also offers a program called Art on Demand where a group can come in, create an art project, and leave with it. Artist Dee Hively leads this program, which includes nearly a dozen different classes. Fees average less than $35 per person.
The Artisan Hatchery is unique in that it’s a true cooperative. “Nobody owns it,” Rebecca added. “I may be the main chick in the nest, but every artist and artisan here is doing their part. We all work together.”
This Gallatin artist is best known for her beautiful portraits of pets.
Debby Locke’s love for art goes back as far as she can remember. Born and raised in Portland, Tennessee, Debby started painting as a small child, but set it aside as she got older and demands of work and family intervened. It wasn’t until she was in her forties that she pulled the easel back out. “I felt like I’d lost a part of myself,” she remembered. “When I picked up the paint brushes after so many years, I felt like me again.”
It didn’t take long for Debby to find people willing to pay for her work. Her first commission was a painting of a dog. Word got around she was good with pets. “About six years ago, I started posting my work on Facebook and things took off from there,” she recalled.
Debby discovered The Artisan Hatchery during a trip to buy pottery made by an artisan she knew. “I took one look around the shop and knew my work belonged here.”
These days, Debby’s work includes all kinds of subjects, some dark and brooding, some pastoral, and others nostalgic. Clotheslines are a new favorite. “They bring back fond memories for most people, memories of a simpler time,” she said.
Debby teaches painting classes in a small studio tucked away behind The Artisan Hatchery showroom. Inspired by the instruction she received from her teachers, Debby aims to create a positive and encouraging learning environment for her students that includes a defined curriculum and plenty of interaction with fellow students. “You learn the most from watching others,” Debby added. “It’s so gratifying to watch my students realize what they’ve been able to create.”
But Wait, There’s More
The roster of businesses serving up the unusual just keeps growing. In addition to Timeless Treasures, a staple on the historic square where you can find works from nearly two dozen artisans, there are a few new kids on the block. One of the latest is Inside Out Market, located in the Fitzgerald Mansion on S. Water Ave. Wander through the rooms of the renovated mansion. You’ll find one-of-a-kind wares sold by local vendors in just about every room of the house.