Artists in Profile: Sara Lederach + Katie Wolf

  • In October 2014, artist and photographer Katie Wolf rented a small storefront in the 604 Building on Gallatin Road. Her original plans for the former barbershop were simple. “It was just going to be a studio space for me, a darkroom and a place to get away and work,” Wolf says. “But it evolved into a lot more.”
         A year and a half later, Gallery Luperca is the central hub of the monthly East Nashville Art Stumble that just recently celebrated its first year of connecting East Side art lovers and artists. Held the second Saturday of each month, the Stumble draws over 300 art fans to a jumble of East Nashville galleries, shops, restaurants, coffee houses, and pop-up art showings. Although the Art Stumble has quickly become a central part of Nashville’s arts scene, it was not the result of a grand plan, but rather a series of coincidences that live up to the accidental nature of its name.
         A native of southern Florida, Wolf moved to Nashville a decade ago and found her way into Nashville’s local art scene. But it was shortly after renting her workspace off Gallatin Road that the dominos began to fall.
         “I place a lot of value on community in the art scene,” she says. “It began as a workspace for me, but I wanted to do what I could for the art community on the East Side, so I started holding monthly art markets.”
         At one of the first art markets, Wolf met artist Sara Lederach. Lederach found her way to Nashville through a well-traveled path. “I was living in Texas and met my husband, who is a musician, and he wanted to move to Nashville,” she says. “I’d been doing art on my own — sculptural rope rugs and ceramics — without any academic background. After we moved here, I began working on a BFA at Austin Peay State University, and that’s when I met Katie. We hit it off immediately, and it wasn’t long before I had a key to the gallery.”
         Together Wolf and Lederach sponsored several monthly art markets. Low attendance was a persistent problem, so they soon turned to the idea of curating shows by artists they admired. “We decided to do our first exhibition with Michael Dickens, who was my teacher at Austin Peay at the time, and his wife, Dawn,” Lederach says. “Since we had trouble getting people out to the art markets we decided we needed some sort of event centered around our openings.”
         As Lederach and Wolf searched for ways to promote their first show, the idea of an East-centric art crawl emerged, but there were challenges. Not only did they need to schedule their event on a different weekend from the well-established downtown and the Wedgewood-Houston art crawls, but the East Side event needed its own personality; and geography also presented a problem. Both established art crawls featured galleries within easy walking distance, which was not the case in East Nashville.
         “It just made sense to do our event on a separate weekend, but convincing people to come to East Nashville and drive around was going to be a super hard sell,” Lederach says. “We included many non-gallery spaces, and we had to coerce some artists into setting up exhibits because we didn’t have enough. Then we needed a name that would make us stand out. We were brainstorming and my husband suggested calling it the Art Stumble. It was perfect. Of course, on the East Side you stumble!”
         In addition to the support of East Side galleries, Lederach and Wolf also found support from many people throughout the Nashville art community, and on the second Saturday of April 2015, the Stumble did anything but.
         “Between 200 and 300 people turned out for the first one,” Wolf says. “We were thinking if we had 20 people we’d be a success.”
         In the last year, new galleries have joined the monthly event, along with several multipurpose art spaces, highlighting work in a multitude of mediums. Pop-up galleries in individual artists’ homes, studios, and work spaces have become an especially notable feature, giving the Art Stumble an eclectic flavor in both the type of art and the expressions of individual artists.
         “There are more artists doing pop-up exhibits, which we definitely encourage,” Wolf says. “We love that organic feel of people doing a show in their garage or studio. We don’t want people to feel like they don’t have a means to show their work other than galleries. The Stumblers really enjoy that variety, especially studio visits because you feel like you’re seeing behind the scenes and everything is more authentic.”
         “It also gives artists a lot more leeway to do braver art,” Lederach says. “At our gallery, we have to be aware of the commercial appeal of the art we showcase in order to keep the lights on, but if you’re showing in a garage or shed, you can show whatever you’re passionate about.”
         With more art venues opening and more artists joining in the monthly Stumble, Lederach and Wolf are both hoping for big things for their own gallery as well as the East Nashville art scene. “We would really like to see even more venues,” Lederach says. “We’ve already met the goals we set for this year, but would like to see more. We’d also like to build a community of spaces along Gallatin Road, from 5 Points north to the Nashville Community Darkroom, that would be within walking distance, even if it was a long walk.”
         “We’d also love to expand into some type of community space,” Wolf adds. “I would love to find an old church with exhibit space in the sanctuary and studios in classrooms, a location where we could also hold other events.”
         Although Lederach and Wolf stumbled into a good thing at just the right time in East Nashville’s cultural development, they attribute a big part of their success to the greater Nashville art community.
         “People really like what we’re doing,” Wolf says. “We’ve had a lot of support from the get-go. That’s something that I didn’t expect. I thought it would be so hard to get people to pay attention, but this month alone, we had four new collaborative art spaces that have moved into the neighborhood contact us wanting to become a part of the Stumble.”
         “The support we’ve received from the community of gallery owners has been incredible,” Lederach adds. “All of the gallery folks are on the same team — trying to advance the art scene in Nashville. The goal may eventually be that we’re all competing for the same market, but that’s not the case now. We continue to have people who not only come to the Art Stumble, but ask what we need help with. All the art nerds have come out to support us. Nashville is a place where collaboration is important, and if we had tried to do this in another city, it would have been a lot harder. It really does feel like our success is everybody’s success.”