Artists don’t just appear out of thin air. Something or someone sets them on their path. Alan LeQuire is well known today as the sculptor of Athena in Nashville’s Parthenon, Musica, the Tennessee Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, Cultural Heroes, and Dream Forest. But it all began much earlier for both Alan and his brother, Paul, whose passion was fixing antique clocks. (Sister Nancy was a very good artist according to Alan, though she chose to study languages, and sister Lista pursued a career in health care.) Louise LeQuire created a fertile playground for her children. “She had this studio where we could work. She had all the tools,” Alan says. “I found those tools and started wood carving. That was the first sculpture I made. She created this ideal, an idyllic setting. Their friends were mostly artists, writers, visual artists, so we were around artists growing up, and it was just an acceptable thing to do.”
Louise Lasseter LeQuire was Nashville’s first art critic, a painter, poet, and teacher. Her interest lay in the history of Nashville’s art and artists, something her children became intimately familiar with. “It was part of our lives,” Alan says. “She talked a lot. She was very opinionated, so we were very aware of what she and my father were interested in. She was an advocate for the artists she really believed in, locally and regionally, and she tried to help them with their careers.”Virgil Shields LeQuire’s field was medicine, though he was “a very skilled craftsman at whatever he chose to do,” says Alan. His father even did some sculpture—on a bet. Virgil LeQuire bet Puryear Mims—“the sculptor in town” as Alan refers to his first mentor—he could win the Central South Art Competition. The prize was a thousand dollars. Virgil carved a kneeling figure in limestone and won the competition. That it caused a rift in the friendship between Virgil and Puryear is not surprising, given that Mims was a sculptor bested by an amateur. Virgil may have chosen medicine as a career, but art chose him as a disciple.
A potent cause took Alan LeQuire to Rome, though it was part his doing and part his mother’s. After three years of pre-med at Vanderbilt at the urging of his father, who wanted him to follow in his footsteps, Alan sought escape by way of an exchange program in France, where, out of the sight of his parents, he soaked up French art, Mediterranean culture. After his graduation, his mother nudged a sculptor friend to see if he needed an assistant. Alan went from France to Rome to apprentice with Milton Hebald, and there he became a sculptor in body, mind, and soul. Mothers know best.The family legacy has come full circle this year with the opening of a second LeQuire Art Gallery in Green Hills Mall. The first gallery, on Charlotte Avenue, opened in 2003 and is home to Alan LeQuire’s studio. The new Green Hills gallery is being helmed by Paul LeQuire. They both feel strongly about continuing their mother’s quest to support and nurture. “Paul and I wanted to do that with the [new] gallery. One of the most rewarding parts of doing it,” says Alan, “is supporting something you care about, locally. We show artists from all over. It’s really hard to get shows when you’re first starting out. The point to me is to recognize what they’re trying to do and bring more exposure to it.” That was Louise LeQuire’s passion. She and Virgil were early supporters of local artist Red Grooms. Louise went on to write the screenplay for a documentary on Grooms, directed by Tom Neff, founder of the Discovery Channel. Neff was a former student of Louise’s. (Louise’s nephew, Andrew Rozario, was also profoundly influenced by his aunt and is now a documentary filmmaker.) If you look back even further, a powder train of synchronicity was also headed toward the creation of Alan’s best known work, Athena Parthenos. That Alan would become an artist was set early on. But his choice of sculpture was a quest for his own identity. “When I was a kid,” Alan says, “I didn’t want to do what my mother did. She didn’t sculpt. It was really Puryear Mims who became my first teacher. Of course my mother, I’m sure, orchestrated all that behind the scenes. Puryear was the most important teacher I ever had—taught me to think about form, in abstract terms.” Ironically, Puryear Mims made a small-scale sculpture of Athena back in the ’50s as a proposal. That he was Alan LeQuire’s first teacher seems like destiny. In 1982, when Alan was just out of school, he won the competition to create Athena, a project that took him seven years to complete.
Humanity is the essence of Alan LeQuire’s work. It is inspired by the past and captures a sense of history.Given his halcyon years in France and Italy, it is perhaps surprising that he would come back to the relative quiet of Nashville. Yet this is where his history lives. “It’s just a beautiful place. I have this pastoral ideal in my head because of the way I grew up. Andrée and I have a farm; we’re building a house, and one day we’ll move out there and begin raising animals again. I don’t think I could do that anywhere else. There’s family and all the friends we have. It would be really hard to build that somewhere else.”
To say Alan returned to his roots or is carrying on a legacy would be to put it too simply. He is more of a traveler between two worlds, the past and the present, his fluid motion blending the two into a constant that hovers timelessly. Interestingly, his current work-in-progress is a sculpture of his father as a shepherd cradling a goat in his arms. (Virgil LeQuire’s area of research included the study of the famous “fainting goats.”) Alan’s feeling about bronze, a metal with hard permanence, conveys that fluidity between worlds. “It sort of has its own life. It’s the only metal that has that living quality.”
There is less a sense that Alan, and Paul, as head of the new gallery, are immortalizing their parents than that they are keeping them in the present, very much like the living quality of the bronze Alan likes to work with.
by Currie Alexander Powers | photography by Peyton Hoge