rain and maize gods

Art Museums in Tennessee Stretch the Imagination

Glass paperweights, ancient Egyptian sculptures and hand-woven baskets reflecting Appalachian heritage may not cross your mind when you think of art museums. However, Tennessee gives a whole new meaning to “art” as its museums across the state feature some very different artistic mediums. If you thought art museums were stuffy and boring, allow Tennessee to change your mind. Here’s a list of art museums spanning Tennessee:


Knoxville is also home to The University of Tennessee Knoxville’s Frank H. McClung Museum, a general museum with collections of archaeology, arts, local and natural history and more. Be sure to check out “The Decorative Experience”, a permanent exhibition that displays 175 items ranging from 2400 BC to the 21st century. You’ll see textiles, stone, metal, glass, wood and more artistic mediums represented. One to note is the Hornbill Headdress from the Democratic Republic of the Congo dating back to the early 20th century. Check out the bas relief fragment from the Assyrian King Sennacherib’s palace, a brass menorah and a large, ornate brass tray from Turkey as well as a spice box from Israel with beautiful designs dating to the early 20th century.

Chattanooga - Hunter Museum of ArtThe glass paperweights at the Hunter Museum of Art in Chattanooga may not look like much until you get a closer look. Paul Stankard’s intricate designs on these glass paperweights as part of his exhibit “Paperweights, Botanicals, Cubes & Columns, Orbs and Diptychs, Triptychs & Assemblages” are nothing short of extraordinary. The details of nature that are expressed will have you gazing in wonder for hours. Walt Whitman and James Joyce are Stankard’s inspiration for his interpretations of North American wildflowers. He lampworks each piece in sections encased in clear glass once complete. The exhibit is on display until April 21.

Before ever stepping inside the Knoxville Museum of Art, the building itself inspires with  its backend parapets and two enormous, haunting blue eyes daring entry. The museum beckons you to “Open Your Eyes”, “Open Your Mind”. Your imagination is stretched beginning in the lobby where regional and local artists’ installations are permanently held as well as national and international artistic works are featured. Continue to feed your imagination with Knoxville Museum of Art’s Thorne Rooms, among America’s most well-known miniature diorama groups. Produced by Mrs. James Ward Thorne who loved dollhouses, the exhibit displays nine of the original Thorne Rooms which copy Europe’s castles, museums and historic homes. With French and English style dating from 1500 to 1920, the textiles and decorations are marvelous. The Knoxville Museum of Art is one of only five museums in the world to have a piece of the collection.


frist center_nashvilleFrist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville was once a post office building that reflected the two most distinctive architectural styles of the 1930s: classicism and Art Deco. It was even listed officially on the National Register of Historic Places but now houses some excellent exhibitions year-round. Newly opened is “Exploring Art of the Ancient Americas: The John Bourne Collection”. Insightful and reflective of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, the collection features urns, vessels, dogs and representations of gods dating back about 4,400 years. John Bourne began collecting these archaeological finds as art after he took a trip in 1945 into the jungles of southern Mexico. There, he saw the ruins of Bonampak, a Maya city in southern Chiapas where famous murals were found a few months later. He’s one of few archaeologists to see the pre-Columbian artifacts as art. The exhibit will take about two hours since there is a lot of history behind each piece and each piece has its own intricate designs. The exhibit is on display in the upper-level galleries until June 23.

Fisk University’s The Carl Van Vechten Gallery is housed in a 19th century Victorian establishment. It was formed in 1949 when American painter Georgia O’Keefe donated the group of works that make up “The Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Modern American and European Art” to Fisk. This exhibit, a permanent installation of works by Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley and many others, is housed on the main floor. General admission is $10. The Aaron Douglas Gallery is on the third floor and usually showcases works by students, faculty, contemporary artists and some of the works from the permanent collection. Admission to this gallery is free.

Take a leisurely drive to Leiper’s Fork in Franklin and be sure to visit The Copper Fox, a museum that features local and regional artists. One of the artists is Connie Ulrich who uses gold, silver, precious stones and platinum found along the side of the road to make beautiful jewelry. Her series “Road Kill” is organic and reflects the natural surroundings of her observations. Matt Tommey has also been featured with his handcrafted whimsical baskets that reflect the traditional Appalachian heritage. The Copper Fox is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.


The University of Memphis’ Institute of Egyptian Art & Archaeology in Memphis maintains a collection of over 1,400 ancient Egyptian artifacts that highlight ancient Egypt’s artistic development and culture. About 200 of those objects date back to 3800 BC and 700 AD. Jewelry, sculptures, mummies and religious artifacts are featured in this exhibit. Besides art and artifacts, the museum even has an actual triangular loaf of bread approximately 4000 years old. The museum is free and open to the public Monday through Saturday.

Brooks Museum of Art, MemphisBrowse the extensive collections the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis showcases throughout the year. The current exhibit “Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey”, highlights 49 original collages, drawing and watercolors reflecting Homer’s story of Odysseus. Bearden has cast all the characters as black and explores the universal themes of overcoming obstacles, journeying home and reuniting with loved ones. The exhibit is on display until April 28. See how girls were portrayed in American painting, prints, photography and sculpture in “Angels and Tomboys: Girlhood in Nineteenth-Century American Art”. Though typical portrayals of girls were docile, passive and domestic, many images were of tomboys, adolescents and working children. You can view the exhibit until May 12.

The West Tennessee Regional Art Center in Humboldt opened in 1994 and is the permanent home for the Ewers Collection, Caldwell Collections and the Lois and Wallis Boehm Porcelain Collection. The Lois and Wallis Jones Boehm Porcelain Collection is a gorgeous exhibit of carefully created porcelain birds including owls, hawks and robins. The artisan studio, Boehm Porcelain is recognized as one of the world’s best porcelain studios. Art from the studio has been presented to Pope John II, Queen Elizabeth II and every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. It is a collection not to be missed. Admission to the museum is free.

What are some of your favorite Tennessee art museums to check out? Let me know in the comments below!

Hey! I’m Amanda Stravinsky, a born-and-raised Jersey girl who now makes her home in the awesome, musically-inclined city of...Read on

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