By SARA ESTES
This story first ran in our sister paper the Nashville Scene.
Shortly after World War II, Pablo Picasso and his then-lover Françoise Gilot made their first visit to Vallauris, France, a small coastal town known for its pottery. The 65-year-old master painter had only dabbled in pottery by that point, firing a few vases with sculptors like Paco Durrio and Jean van Dongen. But he quickly became enthralled by the ceramics being produced at a Vallauris studio, Atelier Madoura. For Picasso, seeing the work at Madoura catalyzed a decades-long deep dive into the world of clay. He partnered with the studio’s owners, Suzanne and Georges Ramié, and began producing his own ceramics, ushering in one of the most prolific periods of his already expansive career.
On Sunday, Hendersonville art hub Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center will unveil a new exhibition featuring 62 pieces of Picasso’s original ceramics. The exhibit, Picasso: Master in Clay, was organized by Park West Gallery in Detroit and fills four galleries in the historic Sumner County mansion. Master in Clay includes a wide array of Picasso’s output — hand-painted plates, vases, pitchers, bowls and more — and each piece is an experiment in the unexpected. Among the major motifs are bold and playful faces, figures, birds and bulls. Created between 1951 and 1969, the works are quintessentially Picasso.
“It’s such an honor to have this show,” says Monthaven executive director Cheryl Strichik. “We’re excited for Middle Tennessee, and all the kids and families here. It’s really a rare opportunity.”
It makes sense that Picasso embraced ceramics in his later years. It was less physically demanding for the artist than painting, a venture to which he gave tremendous physical energy. It also allowed him to work on a smaller scale. But the gentler pace did not mean he slowed his rate of production — Picasso produced more than 3,500 ceramic works, and the majority of them were made at Madoura.
In addition to ceramics, Master in Clay includes more than a dozen etchings from Picasso’s famous Vollard Suite, as well as 25 paintings by French painter Marcel Mouly, who was one of Picasso’s contemporaries.
If you think it’s unusual that such a storied collection would come to Hendersonville for the first stop of its tour, you’re right. But Monthaven Arts and Culture Center is an essential nonprofit art museum and school housed in one of Tennessee’s most spectacular antebellum homes. It’s less than a mile beyond the Sumner-Davidson county line in Hendersonville, which translates to about a 15-minute drive from East Nashville galleries like Red Arrow and Soft Junk.
On the first floor, the mansion’s old parlors have been turned into stunning galleries. On the top floor, multiple rooms host art classes for Tennessee youth. Owned by the city, the historic home used to house the Hendersonville Arts Council, until it rebranded two years ago as Monthaven. In the years since, the institution has hosted 12 art exhibitions and expanded its art school from 36 to 422 students.
The administrators at Monthaven say they aim to fill a void in Nashville’s art community. Future plans include a stand-alone art and music school for children ages 5 to 18, as well as Liberty Hall, a museum with two dedicated galleries for veterans’ art and Western art. Monthaven has already started a permanent collection, which currently includes work by Alexander Renoir (grandson of Pierre-Auguste Renoir), Paul Harmon, Helena LeFrance and Autumn de Forest.
As executive director, Strichik seeks exciting new artists and exhibitions to bring to the region. Before she became Monthaven’s director, Strichik ran a gallery on Second Avenue in downtown Nashville called Striped Door, and over the years she’s watched the Nashville art world evolve.
“I’m in this for the art,” said Strichik. “For the love of art.”
Picasso: Master in Clay happens
Aug.18-Oct. 20 at Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center (1017 Antebellum Circle, Hendersonville)