07/06/2016

By Whitney Keen

Postcards are the stamp of travel that have withstood the test of time. Pictures of far off places are neatly shipped to loved ones; it feels like sending your vacation home. The Parthenon Museum is bringing that feeling to the public through their exhibition Images of Centennial Park in the Twentieth Century. The exhibit features postcards spanning the 113 years that the Parthenon has stood as the crown jewel of Nashville. It also celebrates the people of Nashville who have lived and enjoyed the park since 1903. I asked Susan Shockley, the Parthenon’s Curator; Mark Medley, Assistant Curator; and DeeGee Lester, Director of Education, what their favorite postcards and pictures are in the exhibit.

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As DeeGee lead me through the exhibit, and the very first place she goes is to her favorite postcards. They are on the back wall, blown up pictures in faded color, relics of the early 1900s. These postcards, unlike many, contain the “human touch.” National law stated that nothing but the address and postage could be written on the back of a postcard. So people were forced to write across the picture in order to send their love home. Some of the postcards say things like “it’s hot as a fox here” and other witty jokes of the age. She waves me over to Susan Shockley and Mark Medley, who each take me to their favorites.

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Susan leads me to her favorite postcard. It is a bright green cut and pasted picture of the Parthenon against the skyline of Nashville. It was hand cut and put together, the proportions are off but the image is striking, almost surreal. The red haze that dwarfs the Nashville skyline is actually the line of flowers on the path to the Parthenon.

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Her favorite photograph is of her aunt, Francine Sexton, skating across the lake with friends. The picture has been in her office for years, and now it is being enjoyed by the public. It was edited and printed in a magazine, which we can tell by the white chalk lines around the figures, separating them from the background. Susan beams with pride at the woman in the picture, her arms linked with the two men on either side.

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Mark’s eyes rove the room, taking in every picture that he has meticulously authenticated for the past couple of months. “I have such a hard time choosing my favorite,” he says. “It changes every day.” He finally shows me a postcard from sometime before 1913. The card is pre-war and is of the Parthenon and the John W. Thomas Monument illuminated against the night sky. The heavy shading of red and green accents the misty moon sky. But what makes this postcard unique is that it’s the first to show the brand new electric lights in action. Marks favorite photograph hangs on the back side of the center column, and for those who grew up in Nashville it is one to bring back memories, especially if you are a fan of country music. I won’t spoil the surprise, come and see it for yourself!

Don’t miss this nostalgic exhibition happening at the Parthenon Museum. Though the scenery and technologies around it have changed, the Parthenon has withstood the test of time. With continued support, the Parthenon will still be loved by her city for the next 113 years to come. And whatever you do, don’t forget to buy a postcard.

Images of Centennial Park in the Twentieth Century is on view at the Parthenon Museum until October 26. For more information, visit www.parthenon.org.

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