Every morning, I flip on the lights to my upstairs writing room, open the window blinds, and crank up some music on iTunes to rev up my brain for writing. I sing along to hymns, Radiohead, Johnny Cash, The Shins, Emmylou Harris, and all manner of songs, as if to prepare this space artistically for our children one day. I will gladly give up this room for a kid when the time comes, so it’s like I’m painting the walls in song in preparation, which of course includes silly jazz songs, too — like the Coal Train Railroad record.
A few weeks back I was privileged to sit with trustworthy friends and wrestle, yet again, to find the smallest, most potent words to describe what Art House means. This kind of exercise has played out many times in the last twenty years. We’ve been trying to put our vision into words since we first imagined the place and purpose that became The Art House home in Nashville, and our non-profit, Art House America. As we like to say, the name Art House designates place, while Art House America is an organizational title.
Three summers ago, Chuck and I were visiting family in our hometown of Yuba City, California. Whenever we’re there, we spend a lot of time on our bikes. The terrain is flat and bike lanes are everywhere, very unlike our Nashville suburb with its hills and narrow two-lane roads. On this particular visit, we set off to tour the important landmarks of our youth — Chuck’s grammar school, his old neighborhood, the high school parking lot where we’d met in marching band rehearsals our freshman year, and finally, to the site of my grandparents' house, where they’d lived until the time of their death in the last half of the 70s.
Sandra McCracken’s In Feast or Fallow is the most-played album of my life thus far. It was produced by her husband, Derek Webb, who is fast becoming one of my favorite producers, adding breathtaking layers, textures, and sounds to Sandra’s hymns that sing like the good ole Anglican hymnal I use in Church every Sunday; heck, even our prayer book.
In our little town of Nashville, the photographer Jeremy Cowart is something of a rock star. I suspect his renown is growing all around the world. When you consider that he’s made pictures of Sting, Imogen Heap, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Courtney Cox, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ryan Seacrest, and traveled with Britney Spears in 2009 as her tour photographer, some fame and name recognition makes sense.
My favorite project that Jeremy envisioned is one called Help Portrait. Help Portrait is a world-wide movement stirring the hearts and hands of photographers to find someone in need, take their portrait, print it, and give it to them for free.