A community in the making for 20 years
Two decades ago, painter Lisa Fox took a leap of faith and opened Leiper’s Creek Gallery at a vacant gas station in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. About 30 miles south of Nashville, Leiper’s Fork is a small thoroughfare that’s home to an impressive array of art galleries, retail stores, Leiper’s Fork Spaand a historic grocery store and concert hall, Fox and Locke (formerly Puckett’s of Leiper’s Fork). You won’t find any big hotels or big box stores here – Leiper’s Fork is an enclave for arts and outdoor adventure, with culture and history loved by locals. Lisa Fox’s vision for Leiper’s Creek Gallery has been instrumental in the development of this small but mighty community.
As you enter the gallery, you’ll find lounge-style hanging artwork to create vibrant juxtapositions between the gallery’s stable of 25 artists, while Robin Rains stately and comfortable furnishings give a feeling of home. Fox intentionally built the gallery’s collection to be eclectic, believing this makes the space welcoming to all. “I had gone to galleries where I felt judged on whether or not I should be there, and I was determined that this gallery would be more than that,” she says. Its mix of local, national and international talent has become the basis for visionary local collaboration. Meet this week’s FACE of Nashville, Lisa Fox!
How did the idea for Leiper’s Creek Gallery come about?
I was a freelance decorative artist commissioned to paint a mural at [local preservationist] Aubrey Preston’s mother’s house circa 1998. It was an old landscape on four walls, all around. It took six months, and I fell in love with this place and didn’t want to leave. I saw what Aubrey wanted to do here and believed in the dream. A handful of us dug in and committed.
How did you build an audience?
The struggle was to bring people here for the first time. If we could get them out once, we could get them back. Beyond gallery openings, we tried weird, quirky, funny and creative things to attract media coverage. We didn’t have a penny to market. The pictures were always great because it was a visual feast.
We had Derby Day hat-making parties and a bluegrass festival that drew 6,000 to 8,000 people every year for five years. We had old-fashioned sinks on the lawn where people could wash their hands, and a four-foot square ice block with a giant fan cooled people off. We pushed hard for seven or eight years until we started to feel, They come back again.
How did you select the first artists in the gallery?
I appealed to successful artists who attracted others. One was Antoine Weiss, who had founded several art societies in Nashville and was a highly accomplished master of abstraction. He was also my mentor. Then other artists of the same stature agreed to enter. I also delved into extremes, from impressionism to abstraction – I love contrast. I added folk and sculpture to it; they were all so different, but they went together. Mixing collections can be more interesting than having a house full of abstract art or landscapes.
How do you continue to identify the artists you wish to represent?
It’s been so organic over the years. I don’t invite people until I know if it’s okay. For instance, PE Favor manufactures sculptural wooden pieces. I found it in the woods once, at one point I felt tired and exhausted. I took my dog and was going somewhere where there wouldn’t be another human being. Went to Harpeth River and cut some brush and sticks. When I got to the river, to this little opening, my dog was running around. Then I saw another dog running with her, and this man appeared. I’m not a scared cat, but damn it. Our dogs were doing figure eights and he was laughing. I took a deep breath and we started talking. He was an illustrator and had worked for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. That night he sent me pictures and my jaw dropped. He had about 10 pieces hanging in his house – they had never seen the light of day. I gave him a show and we sold seven plays. I’m the only one who wears his work. That’s how these things happened.
I also remember when Maggie Siner called and asked if I would be interested in wearing his work. I almost fell off my chair. She is a master painter and such a great teacher. It was a moment when I thought, Alright, I’m getting there.
How are you celebrating the gallery’s 20th anniversary?
It’s an affirmation to have a vision and stick to it no matter what. I look back and think of the number of years I’ve been anxious, questioning, Am I on the right track? Am I doing the right thing? Am I doing enough? But I kept my head down and pushed. I had this belief that I was not a business-oriented person, but I actually am – with common sense about how to do things – and it surprises me. I trust where the gallery is and where I can take it. It’s solid and it’s not going anywhere.
Year-round we host exhibits on the porch, where we hang artwork outside the building and feature one of our artists. We have live music and food, and it’s just a big fun time. We do one a month until Demonstration PAPSE (Plein Air Painters of the South-East) end of September. There will be a big party at the end for the gallery. Peter Trippi, the editor of Fine Art Connoisseur, will speak at the Lawnchair Theater [on the gallery lawn] and include views on Tennessee Land Trust, Nashville’s Great Backyard, and how painters paint this landscape.
Are there any artists in the gallery now that you are particularly passionate about?
One of our painters, Roger Dale Brown, born and raised in Nashville, rose through the ranks very, very quickly. He is a four time master painter and probably the one a lot of people look up to. He paints really big, and he keeps growing and growing.
Why do you think owning original artwork is important?
Years ago a man walked into the gallery, looked around, and said, “I have empty walls. I need you to choose some artwork and bring it to my house. I took a deep breath and asked him, ‘Would you like to get out in the middle of this road and just shout, hey, everyone who wants to come home and live with me, come on!’ A true work of art has an energy that you either feel or not. And if you feel it, and you take it home and be your friend, it will be part of your life, your history and your family. It marks a point in time and raises a space. You can feel it. I love that.
What is the most important piece of advice you have ever given or received?
Leap and the net will appear!
Besides faith, friends, and family, what are three things you can’t live without?
Coffee, woodwinds and immersion in the arts in all their forms – visual, musical and otherwise.
Thank you Lisa! All photographs provided.
Read more interviews with our inspiring FACES in our archive!