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Murals Bring Back Main Street’s History

A new mural project painted on the Yeaman Place side of the Stacks on Main apartment complex depicts the history of East Nashville’s Main Street as interpreted by local artist Bryan Deese.

Deese was first asked to carry out the murals by St. Clair Holdings, which developed the building, in 2015. It was the artist’s idea to theme it around the thoroughfare’s unique past.

“I love history,” says Deese. “I like my work to tell a story about the very location where the mural is placed. … So, for this location, there was a lot of rich history to draw from.”

Utilizing the architecture of the building, which provides three separate walls close to the sidewalk, Deese decided to create a triptych, each panel rendered in black and white.

The mural “Music on Main” depicts the recording history of Woodland Studios, featuring portraits of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Maybelle Carter, and more. 

“So many hits came out of that building,” Deese says. “It’s really been a cultural hub of East Nashville since the 1960s.”

“Trains & Trolleys” pays tribute to the L&N Railroad and the Nashville Railways and Light Company, the lines for which ran on either side of the building. 

“I painted an old map of East Nashville published by the trolley company,” Deese explains. “I even marked on the map where Stacks on Main is today. The line that operated in East Nashville was called the Blue Grass Line and it ran all the way to Gallatin.” 

“People and Places” immortalizes a young Oprah Winfrey and former mayor Bill Boner above their alma mater, East Nashville High School, now East Literature Magnet School. It also features Edwin Warner, the neighborhood’s old Genesco factory, and the Dutch windmill that occupied Shelby Park.

By taking such a deep dive into local history and rendering it in street art style, Deese seeks to remind passersby of what life around them was once like. 

“I hope these murals evoke respect for the history of East Nashville,” he says. “Nashville seems to always be undergoing change. Today, it’s changing in fast forward, but it has always been reinvented by new generations. I want the newest Nashvillians to be aware of what went down before they arrived.”

East Nashvillians may recognize Deese’s work from the East Nashville Performing Artist’s Co-op at 5 Points, where he paints advertising murals every month. This month, the first of six murals he is painting there on behalf of the Country Music Hall of Fame went up.

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