by Emme Nelson Baxter
Ralph Lauren could learn a thing or two from David Arms. Arms, one of Nashville’s foremost visual artists, demonstrates his finesse, style, and expertise beyond the brush in his latest oeuvre: the David Arms Gallery at the Barn at Leiper’s Fork. Rest assured, the artist is still producing his thoughtful, symbol-rich acrylics on canvas. But in addition to paintings, he has established a jewel of a gallery in which to sell them.
“As a child, I loved tobacco barns,” the East Tennessee native says. “I worried that my kids would grow up not knowing what barns are.”
You have a clear sense of Arms’ viewpoint the moment you drive up to the Barn, the first building you see on the right as you drive into town. An event designer (think Swan Ball) in his previous life, Arms has created an entire experience that extends from the moment you set foot on the property to the time you stand inside the just-so-sized 900-square-foot space and gaze through the back windows into
The first time he saw the barn, which was about 75 percent renovated at the time, “my knees went weak,” he recalls. He had been seeking a place where he could show his art the way he envisioned it, that was warm and honest.
Prior to setting foot into the restored barn, your senses are welcomed by the aroma of burning wood from the metal fire pit just off the front porch. The porch itself is clad in jaunty plaid draperies. The interior space boasts an Amish poplar floor, beams from a tobacco barn, metal schoolhouse lights, and walls of bead board with vestiges of paint and paper still adhering. Velvet draperies separate one portion of the room from another while floral linen curtains frame windows. A bar area was fashioned from an old door. The effect is clean yet earthy.
The gallery is the antithesis of the stereotypical intimidating, white-walled space that most purveyors of fine art tend to embrace.
Ambient music morphs from Americana to Moonlight Sonata. Outside, black-capped chickadees, wrens, and sparrows munch on sunflower seeds at a feeder as if cued by a higher power to add to the natural ambience.
The gallery inventory is a surprising olio in addition to the original paintings, giclees, and notecards one might expect to find. The mix includes handmade neckwear constructed from vintage fabrics; books, coffee mugs, Bible verses on wood, and candles whose scent is identified as “Studio.” Even Arms’ cell phone ring tone—a pleasant warble from some unspecified avian source—contributes to the mood.
At first blush, these elements seem unrelated. Their cohesion comes from Arms’ nature. He is a Tennessean, an artist who wears jeans and bow ties, a bibliophile, a consummate imbiber of French-press coffee, and a self-proclaimed man of faith.
The merchandise is his line of lifestyle products. “It is a complete experience to appeal to every sense,” Arms notes.
Familiar symbols in the artist’s work are everywhere: nests, eggs, birds, fruits, white linens, perches, numbers, and vessels.
“Many symbols I use have been used throughout art history, but a number of them l use because they ‘make visual’ the world as l see it,” he explains.
Arms opened the gallery a little over a year ago. He pulled out of all his other art galleries—save the Anne Irwin Gallery in Buckhead—and today finds it amusing that he is represented in “Leiper’s Fork and Atlanta.”
The David Arms Gallery at the Barn at Leiper’s Fork is located at 4136
Old Hillsboro Road. www.davidarms.com