The Arts Center of Cannon County was founded in 1979 as a community theater, with productions taking place in the basement of the old high school gymnasium—a building that survived the fire that had destroyed the high school itself.
Ten years later, a joint project of local craft artists, the historical society, and the theater group resulted in 7,400 square-foot building located on John Bragg Highway in Woodbury that abuts the East Fork of the Stones River. Three expansions later, the facility is 18,000 square feet with ample parking and a 225 seat thrust-stage theater, a 2,600 square-foot exhibition hall, a craft shop, a gallery, the county farmers’ market, a kayak launch, a sizeable private investor solar installation, and a full service restaurant.
The current Executive Director, Neal Appelbaum, and his husband of twenty-one years, Garth Hawkins, moved to Cannon County some fourteen years ago. Appelbaum had served on the Board of the facility prior to his being hired to oversee its daily operations. “It is a very active, big red barn. Folks of all ges use the building for educational, professional, social, and cultural purposes,” said Appelbaum.
The textile art of John Harris will be on exhibit at the Arts Center through December 20. Harris began making quilts only a few years ago. Upon retirement, he decided to learn about sewing machines. Twenty three quilts comprise his body of work, and his neighbors appreciate the effort. Each quilt is made for a specific close friend, with colors, patterns, or complexity chosen to reflect its owner’s personality. Thirteen quilts, never before exhibited as a group or individually, have been borrowed off their recipients’ beds for display in Cannon Hall at the Arts Center.
Also currently on display in Cannon Hall is a modern-art textile by Arlyn Ende. This carpettapestry—six feet by fifty-four feet long—is hung in three sections above Harris’ quilts. There is obvious interplay between Ende’s work representing historic quilt patterns but in grandly scaled presentation and Harris’ new, human-sized quilts.
The Berger Gallery at the Arts Center is just a few feet away from Cannon Hall. This space is dedicated to presenting five or more joint or solo shows of art for sale each year. The current show is another attempt to play one artist’s work off of another’s. In this case 20 framed mirrors—from modest to “sofa sized”—reflect the colored light and forms of 23 stained glass gourd lamps.
The framed mirrors are the artistic carpentry of Jerry Gabriel. Depicting natural forms, from tree trunk to topography, the wood is laminated into thick layers and then carved down to the desired contour. The gourd lamps by Jai Sheronda are an unexpected sight. If you’ve met Sheronda, then you already know he has a gourd fetish. He has been growing and making art with gourds for more than a decade. This show and sale brings together his last 24 months’ creations.
“There are giggly, wide-eyed moments of delight in the Berger Gallery right now,” says Chamber of Commerce Coordinator Carolyn Motley. Some of the gourd works are humorous, some striking, but all radiate joy. In need of good change of atmosphere? Spend a few minutes in the middle of a room surrounded by stained glass being reflected from mirrors on all 4 walls. It is an experience of walking into not so much a funhouse as a Fellini-esque interior.
Sheronda and Harris, both LGBT artisans, are long term neighbors around Short Mountain in Cannon County. Says Appelbaum, “Having their shows coincide
has brought a bit of sparkly, whimsical magic into the Arts Center. That brightness is wonderful during our dark winters.”