A Story of Nashville
(Hammered Copper Repoussé) by Gregory Ridley
The 80 hammered copper relief panels installed above the book stacks of the Library's Grand Reading Room were designed especially for this space at the new Main Library, which opened in 2001. These marvelous works of art are a creative retelling of the history of Nashville. They were composed and executed in their entirety by one man, artist Gregory Ridley, who was seventy-five years old when they were completed.
Ridley, an African-American artist born in Smyrna, Tennessee, was fascinated by history. Throughout his long career, he made paintings, sculptures and metal repoussé pieces of historical, mythological, and religious subjects. He was particularly interested in filling out the visual record by casting people of color in historical settings whenever possible. Over a two-year period Ridley produced what was to be his greatest accomplishment as an artistan enduring legacy to the people of Nashville and the world.
Gregory Ridley's hand-hammered copper panels trace the history of Tennessee, and of Nashville, by providing a chronology divided into sixteen chapters that can be read like a visual book. Civilizations throughout history have recounted their heroes, events, and beliefs in pictorial form. One has only to look to Mesopotamian carved stone reliefs, Egyptian hieroglyphic picture writing, Aboriginal sand-painting and earthworks, Mayan carved reliefs, American Indian petroglyphs and pictographs, the pediment sculpture on Greek temples, Roman mosaics, medieval Christian stained glass windows, Buddhist sculpture and sand-painting, Hindu wall murals and miniatures, and Chinese and Japanese scroll painting to understand the timeless value of visual art for commemorating history.
Beginning to the right of main entrance, the panels are grouped into alcoves, each covering one period or subject of Nashville's history. Within each alcove, the panels read from right to left.