From Private to Public | Cheekwood Estate & Gardens
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From Private to Public

Cheekwood’s transition from a private, family home to a beloved and historic public attraction was the result of Huldah Cheek’s desire to preserve the arts in Nashville.

The Nashville Museum of Art

The Nashville Museum of Art was founded as the Nashville Art Association in 1883 by Dr. J.P. Dake, General Gates P. Thruston, and other local commercial and civic leaders. In its early years, the Association began collecting artwork and arranged temporary exhibitions at a variety of venues, including Nashville’s Parthenon, the Watkins Institute (now the Watkins College of Art at Belmont University), local halls, and mercantile buildings. The organization focused on promoting art appreciation and supporting local artists. It gained its first physical space on the second floor of the now-demolished Carnegie Library in 1912, and remained there until 1934. During that time, the Association received $10,000 from General Thruston for the erection of a permanent, purpose-built museum structure — however, this vision never materialized.

By 1910, the Nashville Park Commission had begun appropriating funds for the Nashville Art Association to purchase works of art on behalf of the City, intending to exhibit them at the Parthenon. In anticipation of this move, the Nashville Art Association passed a resolution in 1924 to change its name to the Nashville Museum of Art — however, it would ultimately be left without a permanent home.

From 1934 to 1943, the Nashville Museum of Art Collection was housed at the Watkins Institute, and for several years following, it was displayed in a house located directly across from Tennessee State Capitol. In 1946, the collection was moved into a large house on West End Avenue, where it remained until the Museum’s dissolution in 1959. The art collection and the money earned from liquidating the Museum’s remaining assets were transferred to the Tennessee Fine Arts Center at Cheekwood (now the Cheekwood Museum of Art).

Huldah Ceek & the Cheekwood Museum of Art

The opportunity for a permanent home for the Nashville Museum of Art was revived in 1956, when the Nashville Exchange Club began a fundraising campaign to establish a botanical garden in the city. One year later, their efforts were endorsed by the Nashville Arts Council, whose then-president was Walter Sharp. Sharp was married to Huldah Cheek Sharp, and the couple had received the Cheekwood Estate from Huldah’s mother, Mabel Wood Cheek, in 1944. The Sharps offered Cheekwood for the project, adding the stipulation that the space include a designated fine arts center.

Opening Cheekwood to the Public

Following the Nashville Museum of Art’s official disbanding in 1959, its collection and remaining funds were transferred to Cheekwood — establishing the Tennessee Fine Arts Center and Botanical Gardens at Cheekwood. In preparation for the house to function as a museum, the structure underwent a radical transformation, removing most of the bedrooms and bathrooms on the second floor, the staff rooms, and the working portions of the house such as rooms associated with the kitchen and laundry. The major public rooms of the house functioned as exhibition spaces, as well as the newly created galleries on the second floor. Most of the furniture and fixtures, especially those on the second floor, were removed. On May 31, 1960, Cheekwood opened to the public.

The past sixty years have seen significant growth for Cheekwood. Major milestones include the 1971 addition of Botanic Hall, the 1981 addition to the museum, the development of several cultural and educational programs, and earning full accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums in 2016.

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