Counting the Ways

Nashville-area artists create a picture book that simultaneously celebrates the city and raises funds for flood relief

by Margaret Renkl

Nashville Counts!
By Vadis Turner and Matthew Parker
Holland Brown Books
54 pages
$20

Artists Vadis Turner and Matthew Parker were living in New York and watching helplessly as the flood waters rose around their hometown last May. Their idea for helping from afar is finally coming to fruition: a children’s picture book, Nashville Counts!, that celebrates life in Music City and simultaneously showcases the work of some of its finest artists, including William Edmondson, Alan LeQuire, and Jim Sharraden of Hatch Show Print, as well as rising stars like Emily Leonard, Lesley Patterson-Marx, and Kelly Williams. Turner answered questions from Chapter 16 prior to the opening reception for Nashville Counts!, which will be held at the Rymer Gallery in Nashville (235 5th Avenue North) on November 27 at 6:30 p.m. Proceeds from both book sales and a silent auction of the original art depicted in the book will aid in flood relief through Hands On Nashville.

Chapter 16: How did you first come up with the idea of creating a kids’ counting book as a way to raise money for flood relief?

Turner: Gill and Augusta Holland of Holland Brown Books created Louisville Counts with Stephanie Brothers (editor and production manager) in 2009 to raise money for Art Sparks, the Children's Interactive Gallery at The Speed Museum. The book was wildly loved in Louisville, and the print run sold out within six months and raised over $15,000 for Art Sparks.

I have exhibited my work in the Hollands’ art gallery for a few years, and Matthew produces films with them. Matthew and I grew up together in Nashville and had been working independently with the Hollands while living in New York City. We were honored when they asked us if we wanted to make Nashville Counts. But after saying yes, we sat on the project for a while. We were both busy and possibly a little intimidated. When the flood occurred, we watched the footage from a helpless distance. The flood was the impetus. We knew it was time to bring the project to life. We divided up the responsibilities and got to work. All post-production proceeds are going to flood relief through Hands On Nashville.

Chapter 16: How did you get the word out in the artistic community that you were looking for participants?

Turner: There were artists in Nashville whose work I had always admired and had hoped to show with someday. Many marked milestones in my own artistic development. I had grown up seeing Myles Maillie and Polly Cook's work around town. I had an internship with Alan LeQuire when I was a student at Harpeth Hall. My wonderful high-school art teacher, Rosie Paschall, is in the book, as well as one of my classmates, Kelly Williams. Hatch Show has been a long-time favorite, and they recently printed my wedding invitations. Herb Williams's work became familiar to me when his work "Unite" went to D.C. for the inaugural exhibition. Jerry Dale McFadden, director of the much-missed Tag Gallery in Nashville, had shown my work and introduced me to many artists in the book who also showed with him. Many of them led me to other artists who would be a good fit. The participating artists were all very excited to sign on and contribute to the book. The art world is a small circle in every city. Nashville is lucky to have one that is so generous, talented, and altruistic.

Chapter 16: The participating artists here are a pretty eclectic mix, and yet the works they’ve produced for the book really do seem to fit together. Did you give instructions designed to produce that result, or was it only a lucky coincidence?

Turner: They had free reign to do whatever they wanted. The only requirement was that the piece had to be square (like the book). It was incredibly exciting when the works came in. Matthew sent me pictures of the art from his cell phone as they were collected. We were blown away. The quality of the work shows how hugely motivated the artists were to do something to help flood victims.

Chapter 16: How did you decide which artists got which numbers? I’m thinking that matching Alan LeQuire with an image of the doors of the Parthenon, for example, was surely no accident.

Turner: Matthew and I made a list of our favorite things about Nashville. Then we embarked on the somewhat hilarious task of finding corresponding facts that included numbers one through twenty. I still have miscellaneous number-related facts about Nashville floating around my head.

We let each artist choose which page/topic interested them and suited their work best. We reserved a few obvious choices for some artists. It was really interesting to see who gravitated to the different pages. The first page to be claimed was page five, Channel 5 News, where Oprah has her first anchor gig. I planned to take on whichever page remained after all the artists picked theirs. As a mixed-media artist who works mostly with gender roles and women's issues, I never thought I would ever illustrate the Titans page.

Chapter 16: Getting Ann Patchett to write the introduction was a stroke of genius. Were you nervous about approaching her?

Turner: Actually, we had a connecting force that separated us from the rest of the fans hitting her up for favors. Matthew grew up in Ann Patchett's old house, and his family still lives there. Her name is written on the concrete in the garage. We were thrilled when she responded immediately and enthusiastically.

Chapter 16: Apart from the money you hope to raise from both book sales and the art auction, what’s the best thing that has come from the experience of putting together this book?

Turner: I think that the wildest part about it is that Matthew and I still haven't met many of the people who have contributed to the book. Most of the collaboration has occurred over the phone or via email. It is incredibly powerful when strangers work together to make something happen for the sake of a good cause. We can't wait to meet everyone at the launch at the 27th. Name tags will be crucial.

The opening reception for Nashville Counts! will be held at the Rymer Gallery in Nashville (235 5th Avenue North) on November 27 at 6:30 p.m. Books will be available for sale (and the artists on hand to autograph them), and the original artworks will be sold in a silent auction. All proceeds from the auction and the book sale will be donated to flood victims through Hands On Nashville. Books are also available online here.

Published Friday, 19 November 2010