by Deborah Walden

When First Lady Crissy Haslam became a resident of the historic Tennessee Residence, she joined a tradition of art patronage. For over two decades, the First Ladies of Tennessee have been responsible for selecting the art program for the home. First Lady Haslam recently invited Nashville Arts Magazine to this depression-era home that she shares with her husband, Governor Bill Haslam. The collection inside is drawn from the holdings of Tennessee museums in all four corners of the state. Jim Hoobler, Senior Curator of the Tennessee State Museum, relates, “This is the Tennessee Residence, so the art reflects the whole state.” Nashville’s Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art and the Tennessee State Museum are included, alongside works from the Hunter Museum, the Dixon, and numerous other Tennessee organizations. Hoobler, who began working under former Governor Lamar Alexander, curates the collection and acts as a liaison between various state museums and the First Lady. As we met with First Lady Haslam and Hoobler, they were planning a brunch for employees from each of the museums represented in the collection as a way to thank them for loaning some of their most prized works of art.

First Lady Haslam, who chose not to change the art in the home upon her arrival, says that living amid such treasures is a delight in her everyday life. She smiles, “I am surrounded by creativity. It is inspirational. I love the stories that each work tells.” And each work does tell a story, spinning a narrative of Tennessee’s rich history as one explores the home. Carroll Cloar, one of the state’s most famous painters, is celebrated with three works in the residence. First Lady Haslam holds these canvases dear. “They are fun for me because as a little girl I visited his studio with an art class.”

In Governor Haslam’s quiet, intimate study hangs a sobering reminder of Tennessee history. A civil-rights-era photograph reminds visitors that our state’s freedoms did not come easily. First Lady Haslam relates, “I love this photograph from Memphis. It is of the sanitation strike the day before Martin Luther King was killed.” Such works allow the history of Tennessee to unfold for visitors to the residence. In the adjacent hallway hang paintings of Tennessee’s wilderness from the state’s early days. A collection of porcelain ware, a gift from the Consulate of Japan, illustrates new relationships that are defining the next era for Tennessee. Handcrafted dulcimers made by Tennessee artisans demonstrate traditions of music and family craft that have persisted for generations. Shuffleboards that Elvis played on during a date with a former governor’s daughter hang like paintings just outside the living room. Since the home is used frequently to entertain visiting dignitaries, the artworks act as ambassadors for our state’s history, beauty, and tradition.

The collection in the residence goes beyond paintings and rare objects; it includes some works that were specially commissioned for the estate. First Lady Haslam points out that former First Lady Andrea Conte had many works designed out of repurposed materials from the home. A quilt on the living room couch was created from the curtains that formerly hung in its windows. Fallen trees on the property were handed over to artists to form intricate woodturnings. These works help continue the artistic legacy of the Tennessee Residence and show off the talents of Tennessee artisans. First Lady Haslam says, “I think that our visitors love to see all of these beautiful works of art from across the state that represent all of Tennessee.” Since the home is open to the public on select days, both First Lady Haslam and Hoobler feel that the collection should be a source of pride and enjoyment for Tennessee residents. The home helps preserve Tennessee treasures and celebrates our native talent. Haslam remarks, “I have loved being surrounded by such beauty. Who wouldn’t love to live here?” Her comments ring true for the Tennessee Residence and for the state of Tennessee.

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