A Tour of Recent Downtown Art Additions

Dwight Kessel Garage Mural, Hill Avenue, Knoxville, August 2017

It’s easy to fall into patterns as you walk around downtown. Many people stick to the area around Market Square and the nearby portion of Gay Street. The Old City is the hang out for others. Sometimes it’s good to take a long walk around downtown to areas you might not ordinarily travel. You might be surprised what you find.

I recently made a loop on the south end of downtown proper, starting at the intersection of Gay and Hill, walking east to check out some of the recent art additions.. Just down from the recently discussed Andrew Johnson Building and across from Blount Mansion is the Dwight Kessel garage. The garage itself is worth mentioning simply because it, like the other public garages downtown, offers free parking nights and weekends and it is often overlooked. It’s a block from the Bijou.

Cradle of Country Music, Dwight Kessel Garage Mural, Hill Avenue, Knoxville, August 2017

Dwight Kessel Garage Mural, Hill Avenue, Knoxville, August 2017

Chisholm Tavern, Dwight Kessel Garage Mural, Hill Avenue, Knoxville, August 2017

A set of banners has recently been added to the side of the garage in an effort to offer more than a sheer blank wall to interest passersby. As is the case with the large banners on the Locust Street Garage, Knoxville history offers the focal point of the two banners. To the right as you look is a montage of musical artists associated with the Cradle of Country Music Tour. Hopefully this will highlight the existence of this great walking tour and encourage more people to take it. If you haven’t, I encourage it. Stop by the Visitor Center and pick up the guide.

The image to the left is worth some focus. It looks like an ancient rural scene, but it is actually Chisholm Tavern, which was located about a block from that spot at Front and Gay. It is pretty ancient as Knoxville goes, having been erected as a residence by Captain John D. Chisholm, a friend of William Blount. Completed in 1792, the photograph was taken in 1934. Here’s the tragedy: It stood until the 1960s. At over 170 years old it was destroyed for, “urban renewal.” And so, we have a banner. At least it is remembered.

Eduardo “Eddie” Mendietta Mural, Outdoor Knoxville, August 2017

Walking further east on Hill, a new mural comes into view from the bridge across Neyland Drive. Located on a rambling retaining wall adjacent to Outdoor Knoxville on Volunteer Landing Lane, the colorful new addition to this corner of downtown was painted by Eduardo “Eddie” Mendietta.

Eduardo “Eddie” Mendietta Mural, Outdoor Knoxville, August 2017

Eduardo “Eddie” Mendietta Mural, Outdoor Knoxville, August 2017

This particular mural reflects the natural environment found in the area through its depiction of river wildlife. Funding for the project was provided by the city via the Arts and Culture Alliance and their Public Art Committee. The eleven concrete panel project cost $13,500 and comes from a $250,000 budget for public art. It’s best viewed by walking down the winding road to the Outdoor Knoxville building. A cool bonus as you see it from the bridge is that it sits beneath the bicycle sculpture by Kelly Brown.

Just about halfway between your first sight of the retaining wall mural and your close up view if you are walking in that direction, you’ll come upon another sculpture. It’s hard to photograph because of its reflective surfaces. Those same surfaces make the sculpture dynamic and interesting as it changes with every angle and with every shift of light through the day.

Ki-Net-Ik by Derek White, Hill Avenue, Knoxville, August, 2017

Ki-Net-Ik by Derek White, Hill Avenue, Knoxville, August, 2017

Completed last fall by artist Derek White of Bird on the Wire Studios, the project was championed by and largely funded by the Riverhill Gateway Neighborhood Association made up of the condos lining the river just behind the sculpture. CBID, the Public Arts Committee, Petsafe and others also contributed.

Railroad Trellis over the Tennessee River, Neyland Drive, Knoxville, August 2017

Railroad Trellis over the Tennessee River, Neyland Drive, Knoxville, August 2017

Second Creek, Knoxville, August 2017

After walking past the sculpture and along the mural, I walked along the river from Volunteer Landing via the comfortable walking path. There’s always something interesting along the river. Children splashed in the pools clearly posted as off limits. Boats passed. I was struck by the beautiful geometry of the train trellis near UT campus. A turn just shy of Neyland stadium crosses Neyland Drive and leads to the Second Creek Greenway, which is always a pleasure to walk.

My objective in walking this direction was to see the new art installation on the steps leading from Cumberland to a parking lot that connects to the greenway and to the World’s Fair Park. Near Eleventh Street, the heavily used forty-three steps are ten feet across, making for a large surface for a mural. This project like the other mural in this article, was funded by the city’s Public Arts Committee.

Cumberland Avenue Step Project, Knoxville, Jessie Unterhalter/Katey Truhn, August 2017

Cumberland Avenue Step Project, Knoxville, Jessie Unterhalter/Katey Truhn, August 2017

Cumberland Avenue Step Project, Knoxville, Jessie Unterhalter/Katey Truhn, August 2017

Artists Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn completed the project this spring and the results are quite striking. The tapestry is typical of the work of the duo from Baltimore, but it also reflects the Appalachian craft movement found in quilts and other art. It’s easy to imagine it as a quilt spread over the steps. It’s proving to be an attraction of its own and a perfect spot for a selfie.

Rachmaninoff, Victor Bokarev, World’s Fair Park, Knoxville, Knoxville, August 2017

From there I walked back into the city via the World’s Fair Park, climbing the steps across Cumberland from their colorful neighbors. Those steps lead to another hidden art stop along the way. The larger-than-life statue of Sergei Rachmaninoff sculpted by Victor Bokarev to commemorate the final concert of his life, which took place in Knoxville. It’s a surprising find for those who haven’t seen it and a perfectly peaceful spot to discover in the center of the city.

We’ve got a beautiful city. Interesting walks await in every direction. Why not take a walk and get to know our city’s art, natural features and built environment just a little better? I’ll look for you.


  1. Pete Garza says

    Great article and a Great Read.
    Thank You for All You Do.

  2. Andrea Murphy says

    I really enjoy all of your pictures and notes. I plan to walk the your when I visit home from San Diego. Lots going on. I do recall the Chilsome place in the 60’s.
    thank you for all of the adventures.

  3. Ken Moffett says

    All of these urban artwork pieces are fine additions to the downtown area, as are many, though not all, of those that have been here longer. I would offer that caution be the watchword in encouraging or approving large installations: they are unusually challenging to get right (remember the treble clef?, plus after a certain point a “critical mass” will have been reached.

    The railroad trestles are indeed fascinating sculptural elements in their own right; it’s too bad the railroads have refused to repaint them. Should that ever happen, bridges are so large that relatively understated colors should be the watchword.

  4. Oren Yarbrough says

    I love the increasing amount of murals and art installations popping up around the city and believe that this is a simple and cost effective way to create a name for Knoxville regionally. I don’t agree with Ken in the idea that we may some day reach a critical mass of too much art. I would much rather see a dozen more murals than one tacky, over sized , & unnecessary billboard or restaurant sign (exception being the well designed nostalgic signs like JFG & Regas). I can imagine that public art on a larger scale and in greater density would be a net benefit to tourism for the city. So long as the city and private companies invest and hire competent artists and create “graffiti zones” throughout the city to help regulate things. I know we have a contact downtown for the murals in the alley between Gay and Market.

  5. Oren Yarbrough says

    As a side note I personally believe that one of the best opportunities for the city to take advantage of an eye sore and make it a net positive for the city is the AT&T building off Gay and Magnolia. In Chattanooga their is an identical building near UTC campus and Chattanooga a couple years ago worked with AT&T and funded a professional muralist to come in and paint the entire building with historical scenes of African American culture in the south and Chattanooga. It is a absolutely stunning building now and has even begun to spur development in the area for millenial oriented retail and living. Ever since seeing this structure in Chattanooga it has been a goal of mine to attempt to get the conversation started to have the same thing for Knoxville. The location and proximity to the interstate & downtown makes the massive blank facades perfect to create a “Welcome to the Smokies” or a “Keep Knoxville Scruffy” styled murals. I would love to see something to tongue and cheek remembers our days as a textile giant and the “Underwear Capitol of the World”. I think their is an opportunity the city should capitalize on with the AT&T building and with the recent development in the area the best time to do it would be now. We already know that AT&T would be willing to work with the city since they have already done the same thing in a similar city in the same state. Lets make this happen. Use the link below to see some pictures.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      That is a spectacular idea. That building kills me a little more every time I pass it.

      • Oren Yarbrough says

        With your permission I would love to talk about maybe doing a post some time about that building. I did some research on the structure and it’s many iterations and I discovered some very cool history about the older portions that face Magnolia and Broadway. One piece of that complex is arguably one of the more historically significant buildings in the city. It’s a shame it’s location has become it’s crux.

      • I literally live beside that AT&T tomb (Not Karm)….that building needs Life.

    • If anything, AT&T should be more charitably inclined toward Knoxville than Chattanooga given that Knoxville chose not to compete with AT&T and Comcast in offering high speed internet service.

  6. Rachel Haverkamp says

    Correction: the mural on Volunteer Landing Lane near Outdoor Knoxville was actually created by West Palm Beach, Florida artist, Eddie Mendieta.

  7. Nice collection.

  8. Wonderful additions to our beautiful downtown. And, yes, please, let’s do something with that horrible eyesore that is the AT&T building! Thanks for the photos. Can’t wait to check out the new art in person.

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