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  • Writer's pictureCheré Dastugue Coen

Clarkville's Innovative Street Art, From Sergeant Carter to Van Gogh

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

The northern Tennessee town resonates with the creative spirit.

Olasubomi Aka-Bashorun's “Clarksville’s Starry Night,”

I admit it, I’m a sucker for babies. So when I met artist Olasubomi Aka-Bashorun in Clarksville, Tenn., I didn’t know what impressed me more, his amazing artwork throughout town and in his downtown gallery or the adorable baby girl he carried in his arms.

Aka-Bashorun is a new proud father, but he’s also the creator of the magnificent public art piece “Clarksville’s Starry Night,” the town’s skyline in the style of Vincent van Gogh. The vibrant murals fills a 60- by 40-foot space on the side of a building at 420 Madison Street.

It’s one of the many murals, sculptures and fountains that dot this corner of northern Tennessee. All are located close to the city’s downtown core and include city streets, urban trails, buildings and the campus of Austin Peay State University.

Check these out…

"The Day After" by Scott Wise

“The Day After," a bronze statue by Scott Wise at the corner of Commerce and South Second streets, depicts a seated man reading the January 23, 1999, edition of The Leaf-Chronicle newspaper. The date reflects the day after an F-4 tornado destroyed much of downtown, including the courthouse behind him and the Leaf Chronicle buildings. Despite the horrific disaster, Clarksville’s newspaper never failed to publish the following day.

"The Clarksville Protector" by artists Roger and Neil Brodin is a bronze sculpture dedicated to all who serve in the Clarksville Police Department and is located at 135 Commerce St.

The First Federal Outdoor Garden at 200 S. Second St. includes various pieces in the courtyard entry at the Customs House Museum and Cultural Center, created by artists Olen Bryant, Tom Rice and Mike Andrews.

"Lenora ‘Nora’ Witzel and Nettie" by Andrea Lugar

"Lenora ‘Nora’ Witzel and Nettie" by Andrea Lugar at the Millennium Plaza at Third Street is a life-sized bronze statue of local pioneer female photographer Lenora Witzel and her dog. Nora was known to wear unobtrusive clothes and her statue reflects that. Notice the camera in her hands. Nora spent much of her lifetime shooting (with the camera, of course) residents and landmarks of Clarksville, although she used a more modern camera for her studio work. She entered a nursing home in 1968 at the age of 91 and died two years later.

The Millennium Fountain by John Medwedeff, also in Millennium Plaza, is a 16-foot bronze fountain installed with the reconstruction of the area after the 1999 tornado.

Eighteen bronze children at play made up the elaborate Children’s Fountain at 115 Strawberry Alley. Be sure to get up close to view the individual faces and actions of the children, plus the reading child on top.

"Wilma Rudolph" by the Rev. Howard Brown

Three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Wilma Rudolph is memorized by a life-size bronze statue by the Rev. Howard Brown at the Wilma Rudolph Event Center at 1190 Tenn. Hwy 48.

The sidewalk leading to her statue highlights some of her most famous quotes, including “Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” She overcame polio at an early age and this quote shows her resilience: "My mother taught me very early to believe I could achieve any accomplishment I wanted to. The first was to walk without braces."

"Frank Sutton" by Scott Wise

One of my personal favorites remains "Frank Sutton,” a life-size bronze sculpture by Scott Wise of the Clarksville native and actor who portrayed “Sergeant Carter” on the CBS sitcom “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” The show, also starring Jim Nabors, was a spinoff from "The Andy Griffith Show" and ran from 1964 to 1969. Unveiled in 2017, the statue is located at 107 Franklin St. in the heart of downtown Clarksville. Sutton was a real Army sergeant who served in the South Pacific from 1943 to 1946 in the 293rd Joint Assault Signal Company. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

"Forged in the Fire" is steel warped in a fire of 1978, refined and painted by Montgomery Central High School students at Upland Trail at Spring Street, created with artist Mike Andrews.

"Bursting with Pride" by artist Ricky Deel is a 10,000-square-foot mural featuring 15 Clarksville buildings. It's located at 110 Franklin St.

John Montgomery was Clarksville’s first settler and his bronze recreation by Scott Wise is located at City Hall at Strawberry Alley.

"John Montgomery" by Scott Wise

"Pillar of Cloud, Pillar of Fire" by Dr. Gregg Schlander is a 30-foot tall steel pillar dedicated to all military personnel in the Public Square at Main Street.

On the Austin Peay State University Campus (601 College St.), adjacent to downtown is the following:

"The Synthesis" polished marble statue by the Rev. Howard Brown at the Felix G. Woodward Library; "The Gateway" by Dr. Jim Diehr at the College Street Entry Gates, made up of concrete and steel; "A Sentinel" by Olen Bryant at the Morgan University Center, a 10-foot bronze monolithic sculpture; and "Gov. Austin Peay" by Scott Wise at the Morgan University Center, a life-sized bust of the Tennessee Governor and college’s namesake.

And there's more..."Remembrance" by Scott Wise, a bronze sculpture commemorating Clarksville firefighters who have fallen in the line of duty, at 831 Franklin Street; "Family" by Tom Rice, limestone pedestaled bird sculptures inside the foyer of the Clarksville-Montgomery County Public Library at 350 Pageant Lane; "Reverence" by Scott Wise, one-and-a-half life-sized sculpture dedicated to all veterans who served in the U.S. armed forces at 330 Pageant Lane (facing Madison Street); and "Doughboy" by Ernest Viquesney, marble sculpture dedicated in 1929 to honor World War I veterans at 250 Arrowwood Lane (Brigadier General Wendell H. Gilbert Tennessee State Veterans' Home).

Individual stories about the pieces, most of which were written by students in an Austin Peay Urban Planning class, can be found on the Visit Clarksville website.

Weird, Wacky & Wild South is written by journalist Cheré Coen. She visited Clarksville, and its numerous street artwork, as a guest of Visit Clarksville, which contributed most of this background information.

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Bruce Coen
Bruce Coen
Jun 16, 2023

Wonderful story! Definitely want to check out Clarksville one day on the "last train"!


Warren Johnson
Warren Johnson
Jun 13, 2023

Kudos to Clarksville and to you for giving us this great urban scene.

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