Written by Libby Callaway/All photos by Andrea Behrends
Is it possible to have a crush on a building? Because that’s the way I feel about 1411 Buchanan Street, a cinder-block commercial space that might be described as non-descript were it not painted a vibrant green and white and home to a dynamic group of artists, designers and creative entrepreneurs. The 1411 crew came together under the stewardship of building owner Alex Lockwood, a self-taught sculptor from Seattle. Alex moved to Nashville via Brooklyn five years ago with his wife Genie, a native. In New York, Genie worked predominately as a vintage textile curator; today she runs Arcade, the excellent children’s boutique in Hillsboro Village.
In addition to a studio where Alex dreams up his fantastical abstract sculptures (more on those in a minute) and an office from which Genie runs Arcade, 1411 is home base for eight other creatives: visual artists Robert Scobey, John Tallman, Duncan McDaniel and Lauren McDaniel; pastry chef and writer Lisa Donovan of Buttermilk Road; jewelry designer Carolyn Burgess of Acorn & Archer; and ceramicist Jessica Cheatham of Salt Ceramics. Christie Craig of The Farmer & The Florist sells locally and organically grown flowers and produce from the storefront, punctuated by large plate glass windows.
Before buying 1411 three years ago, Alex had a studio at 100 Taylor Street, a rundown building in Germantown that not very long ago was headquarters for some of Nashville’s most prolific artists (it was a not-so-well-kept secret that Harmony Korine kept a space there). At that time, 100 Taylor was managed by Kelly Bonadies, a creative and forward-thinking real estate developer. Kelly is widely credited with respectfully and strategically changing the commercial fabric of the Buchanan Arts District, the name given to the traditionally black neighborhood where Buchanan Street is the main corridor. Over the last few years, the neighborhood has seen an influx of fashion designers, furniture makers and artists. You can read more about this and Kelly’s place in the action in Alex’s interview.
But first, a bit more about his work
Alex makes art out of the items we throw away. His over-scaled abstract sculptures involve taking “trash” like shotgun shells, bottle caps and used lottery tickets and fashioning them into things of beauty. Masks are made from linked strands of bottle caps, bowls and other colorful plastic detritus. Large interactive mobiles (please touch the art!) constructed from longer strands of the same call to mind the tentacles of a cartoon sea creature.
The pieces that I find the most striking are his shotgun shell “tapestries.” A perfect specimen hangs behind the counter in the atelier of his Buchanan Street neighbor, Emil Erwin. It’s made from 16,000 shells in shades of red, blue and gold, many of them sourced by scavenging the grounds at local shooting ranges. If you stare at it long enough, the rolling asymmetry of the shells becomes hypnotic. It’s strangely calming.
Alex’s most recent passion project is his contribution to The Country Club at The Band Box, the nine-hole miniature golf course at the new Nashville Sounds baseball stadium. Called “Big Spinning Head,” the installation includes, yes, a large, rotating white sphere studded with colored light bulbs, as well as a variety of “faces” made from recycled plastic materials in primary colors displayed on vertical rods, like so many freaky lollypops. That barely does it justice. Click here to see what I’m talking about.
Or take a closer look at the lead photos that accompany this piece, shot by the one and only Andrea Behrends, which also give a nice glimpse into Alex’s pop-y, happy aesthetic. Further down, there are portraits of the other nine denizens of this creative compound in their distinctive workspaces
Over the next few years, the neighborhood will inevitably change more – a product of Nashville’s record growth, which seems to leave no part of the city unaffected. 1411 is slated to go through some changes as well, which Alex talks about in our conversation, in which he also weighs in on Buchanan Street’s past, its future and its very vibrant present.
TCR: How did you and Genie end up moving to Nashville?
ALEX: We went on a road trip. She showed me Savannah, Charleston, Memphis - places I'd never been. And we came to Nashville. We were just going to be here for four days, but my car broke down. We ended up being here an extra week.
We visited so many great neighborhoods that we could see ourselves living in. It just seemed like a city with a lot of possibility and a lot of interesting people. And Genie wanted to come back here.
But I'd been to cities that I really liked and thought I'd want to leave New York for before. So we talked about it and decided to go back to New York and see how we felt. And for the first time in 15 years, my feeling didn’t change when I got back. I still wanted to move here. I was relieved. It's hard to leave New York and it was great for it to become easy all of a sudden.
So we planned to leave. We got engaged. We thought maybe it would take a while to get pregnant. We got pregnant immediately. So we moved down here while planning a wedding and with her pregnant.
In the years before this, I had been teaching myself a lot of art making. I had a studio in Brooklyn. I remember thinking that maybe I'll stop making art. You know, when you move somewhere, you don't know what the environment is going to be or what your interests are going to be when you get there.
TCR: Moving presents a lot of wonderful opportunities for change. It’s always tempting to think about shaking it up and doing something completely different.
ALEX: Totally. And there were unknowns. I'm married. I’m going to have kids. Who knows what will happen? But what happened was I got more excited, interested and busy with art making than I had ever been before. I was working out of 100 Taylor, when Kelly Bonadies was there. And she told me about a neighborhood where she and (her husband) Aaron bought a house for peanuts.
The first time I saw Buchanan Street, I couldn't believe it. I mean, this is a beautiful stretch of commercial buildings right next to downtown, and there's just so much possibility for it, because it's so close and because it was being overlooked for some reason.
I think that neighborhoods here are much more racially divided than other places I've lived. So for North Nashville, it was like, "Well, that's a black neighborhood, let's keep going south, east and west to develop. I think that’s why Buchanan Street has basically been left alone.
So Kelly showed me the 1411 building. It was built as a clothing store called Sam’s. Sam’s still exists downtown. I've tried to find the owners, but haven't gotten anywhere. I'm still hoping to make a connection. I want to hear more about the building.
But when I first saw it, it was a mess. It was painted this really disgusting green. It had bad carpet and leaks all over. It had what I think is called a mansard roof, one of those really ugly additions that you see on McDonald’s. And it had so many toilets - at least eight.
It was odd. But I could see it. It had cinder-block walls holding a pre-stressed concrete ceiling. It's just a box – a great cinder-block box. We also bought the lot next to it. This was three years ago.
And we couldn't be happier there. I like working in that neighborhood. I like being in a black neighborhood again, like I was in New York. Yeah, I love life. I'm really, really happy being there.
TCR: Have you and the building been embraced by the folks in the neighborhood?
ALEX: Yeah. I think that taking an abandoned building that's half painted and is leaking water and then not only fixing it up, but also putting a flower shop in front… It's just like putting a bouquet in the middle of the neighborhood.
I was lucky I didn't have to deal with people being in the building when I moved in. I think development and gentrification become a lot more complicated when you're displacing someone. It's easier when you're moving into an empty space, and you're able to fix and kind of beautify.
TCR: How did you find your tenants? Of course, you and Genie both work out of there. That's easy.
ALEX: It all started with Jessica (Cheatham). She's such a great person, and a lot of great people are drawn to her. So when she comes to me and says, “You’ve got to meet Lisa Donovan,” I meet Lisa Donovan, and, well, of course, Lisa’s got to be in here.
And Jessica introduced me to Christie (Craig, of The Farmer & The Florist), and she brought in Carolyn (Burgess, of Acorn & Archer jewelry). I met Robert Scobey through COOP, a curatorial collective we are both a part of. I met John Tallman at a gallery opening. Who else? Duncan and Lauren I met at 100 Taylor.
TCR: The first time I met Kelly was three or four years ago at 100 Taylor. I was there to visit (fashion designers) Han Starnes and Annie Williams, who shared a studio there. They were like, "Libby, you’ve got to meet our landlord." And Kelly whizzes around the corner on a pair of skates!
ALEX: [LAUGHS] Rollerblades.
TCR: Yes! And I knew immediately she was awesome.
ALEX: She is awesome.
TCR: And she's been such a force in the growth of Nashville’s creative community.
ALEX: Oh, yeah. I wouldn't be on Buchanan Street without her. I wouldn't have found it. She's knows everybody in the neighborhood and all the people who own the properties. Her motto for a while (when talking to neighbors about real estate) was, “Sell smart or keep it.” She was telling that to everyone she was meeting with. She said, “If you want to sell it, I can help you. But if you want to keep it, I can really help you with that, too. And not just using my ideas.”
And there's the Make a Mark program that offers easy access to loans for artists or craftspeople. And they focus on neighborhoods like Buchanan Street, where they want to help people who own buildings stay so they can capitalize on the changes that are happening.
TCR: So what’s the personality of 1411?
ALEX: It's really friendly. It’s a good group. There's usually beer in the fridge. We don't party there or stay late, but we do have some afternoon beers and hang out.
We all talk a little bit. People come into my space and talk to me while I'm working. I love having my door open and hearing what dogs are coming in with which people.
TCR: I love all the diverse work that’s coming out of 1411. It's like one-stop shopping for creativity. And there’s more to come, right? Lisa and John Donovan are great friends of mine and they’ve shared a little about their latest combined project, which will include a studio where John will operateTenure Ceramics and a kitchen where Lisa can host visiting chefs. Word is that it’s going in next door.
ALEX: We’re trying hard to make that work - to establish a home for both of their businesses in one building. I’ll do whatever I can to keep those two.
TCR: So John and Lisa’s building project is 1411’s phase two?
ALEX: Yeah, and I think it will be the last phase at that spot. I don't want to add more structures. We’ve got some nice green space there and I want to keep it that way.
In the future, there are a few other directions I want to explore in the neighborhood. First I’d like to develop some kind of education center for kids in the neighborhood. We have so many great teachers in the building and they are all excited to share their skills. Maybe it will be a part of the existing building, maybe down the street. The neighborhood is filled with kids but they keep off of Buchanan right now - there’s nothing for them yet.
I’d also like to develop more spaces for artists on Buchanan - and I want them to be able to stay for the long term. I actually got this idea from Kelly: I plan on having two different rent structures, lower rent for the artists, higher for other tenants. I’m not going to gouge anyone but at the same time I really want to avoid the cycle of artists being displaced right when a neighborhood starts getting attention.
TCR: I think it makes sense. It's a great way of building the community and allowing more artists to eventually come to the area.
ALEX: I'd eventually like to create workspaces that I can then sell back to artists so that they can be permanently invested in the neighborhood. Especially here, right now.
I was in Brooklyn for fifteen years. I didn't see change this fast. I mean, for artists who are struggling to find workspace, it’s scary. Maybe you'll find a place in a neighborhood, but in a year that neighborhood could be a totally different thing, and you're out of there.
I don't have all the answers for that, or a totally clear plan, but I definitely want it to be a neighborhood where artists can work and live.
I think I'm in a good position. I know I'm lucky. I know it's not common. This is always awkward to talk about, because artists are usually really struggling to find space, and we're not right now. In the Buchanan Street neighborhood, we can still make some things happen. For Genie and I to be both creative and also be in a position to develop something is really exciting. It’s a position that a lot of people usually aren't in.