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An Autobiography: Chapter 46, Spotlight On the Arts

The Arts have always been an important part of my life: music, art, theatre, dance, literature and films. I wish I could remember the very first exposure to all the arts, but time has erased many events I am sorry to say.

I vaguely remember the first music. I think I was about six years old and staying at a day nursery in Covington, Kentucky, next door to a Methodist church. The kids at the nursery were invited to attend a music event at the church, and we were all mystified at what we saw and heard. A man played music on a Theremin! Eerie music coming from nowhere. He just waved his hands around and over two rods protruding from a box of some sort; I thought it was magic!

Man Playing Thermin 046 

Now if you aren’t familiar with this strange instrument, I am sure you have heard it in films. Movies in which the Theremin played an important part include, “The Lost Weekend”; “Spellbound”; “The Spiral Staircase”; “The 10 Commandments”; and that great Sci-Fi film, “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” And the Golden Days of Radio used the Theremin, too. Shows like “The Green Hornet” would not have had its full suspense and excitement without it.

My first exposure to art were works by my brother, Edwin Byron. At the time I didn’t realize what a fine artist he was, but his paintings and drawings introduced me to a beautiful world. In my teen years, I discovered some of the great American artists like Winslow Homer, Reginald March, Peter Hurd, Georgia O’Keeffe, Doris Lee, and Thomas Hart Benton. As a young teenager, the image of Benton’s painting, “Persephone,” of the old farmer looking around the tree at the beautiful nude girl lying by the stream with her basket of flowers and clothes beside her has stayed with me. You just never forget a lovely painting like that. I have forgotten some of the masters, but not “Persephone.”

I don’t remember the first movie I saw. I am sure I wasn’t more than five or six. It may have been when Mom and Dad took us three kids to the movie on “grocery night” or “silver dollar night.” During those Depression years, the theatres gave money and groceries to lucky ticket holders. We did win sometimes; we had a fair chance with five ticket stubs!

Books have always been important. Our library contains about 2,500 volumes, and one of our favorite authors is Hendrik Willem van Loon. His books The Arts and Van Loon’s Lives are classics I treasure. The description on the front of the dust jacket of “Lives” states: “Being a true and faithful account of a number of highly interesting meetings with certain historical personages, from Confucious and Plato to Voltaire and Thomas Jefferson, about whom we had always felt a great deal of curiosity and who came to us as our dinner guests in a bygone year.”

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The van Loon book was published in 1942, and the panel on the back cover is interesting:

In this book you will read a great deal about the
old and lovely city of Middelburg.
(Below that is a drawing of a bombed out city)
Today it looks like this. The Germans bombed it until not a
single house was left standing.

Some will remember Steve Allen’s amazingly successful PBS-TV series, “Meeting of the Minds.” The nation’s television critics voted Steve Allen’s scripts as BEST TV WRITING of 1976-77. There is no doubt that Steve got the idea from Van Loon’s “Lives.”

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Steve Allen 

In our library, I have the 1940 edition of The Oxford Book of English Verse, and it has my signature with a swirl beneath it, written in pencil, with the date: 10/30/40. You may remember that Ms. Grumplemeir, my penmanship teacher, once pointed out the swirl under my name to the class and told them, “Thurston will go far in whatever he chooses in life.” One of my favorite poems in the Oxford Book of verse is by Leigh Hunt (1784-1859).

Jenny Kiss’d Me 

Jenny kiss’d me when we met, 
Jumping from the chair she sat in; 
Time, you thief, who love to get 
Sweets into your list, put that in! 
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad, 
Say that health and wealth have miss’d me, 
Say I’m growing old, but add, 
Jenny kiss’d me. 

Leigh Hunt 046 

Leigh Hunt 

In early 1987, I was visiting the Tennessee Arts Commission and we were talking about the lack of press and support that the “arts” receive in Tennessee. A lady looked at me and said, “You have published books, haven’t you? Maybe there’s something you can do to help us.”

So before long, I brought out the first edition, May 1987, of the widely acclaimed tabloid monthly, SPOTLIGHT ON THE ARTS. For six issues it was distributed throughout the state, but like most arts projects, we couldn’t get the advertising support it needed, and it folded.

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Ad in Spotlight on the Arts. 

Copies are in the Thurston Moore archives at the Nashville Public Library. Here’s comments from some of the letters we received:                                                                                          

“It is reflective of you, of your dedication to produce the best you know how for Tennessee.” – Alex Haley 

“The growing number of people who sustain our renaissance atmosphere could find no more comprehensive, literate or attractive compilation of information than SPOTLIGHT ON THE ARTS.” – Dane LaFontsee, Nashville City Ballet 

“Coverage of the arts in Tennessee is of great importance to all of us, and your publication does an excellent job in bringing attention to the multitude of cultural activities in our great state. - Warren K. Sumners, Tennessee Performing Arts left 

“You are making a fine contribution to the Arts in Tennessee…we will all benefit from your efforts.” – Constance Harrison, Knoxville Symphony Orchestra 

“Everyone at WPLN was so excited to see the beautiful Spotlight On the Arts. It was even better than expected. We have all been impressed with the very interesting articles.” – Brenda Loftis, WPLN-FM 

“On behalf of the State of Tennessee, it is a pleasure for me to have this opportunity to extend to you my best wishes for the Spotlight On the Arts. – Ned McWherter, Governor 

“Thank you for SPOTLIGHT ON THE ARTS. It is a most impressive publication and you should be proud and pleased with it.” – Estelle Linzer, Albert Schweitzer Fellowship 

“Our office has been so impressed with the quality and scope of Spotlight On the Arts. We cheer your vision and the important service to the Nashville community and to Nashville’s “aspiring,” as well as accomplished artists.” – Ophelia Paine, Metropolitan Historical Commission 

“Congratulations for putting the spotlight on the Arts.” – Billy Edd Wheeler, Playwright/Songwriter 

“Thanks to a much needed publication. I commend you for your efforts.” –George L. Mabry, Director Austin Peay State University’s leftfor the Creative Arts 

“The annual meeting of the U.S. Conference on Mayors will be held in Nashville with some 1,000 attending. May I request 1,000 copies of SPOTLIGHT ON THE ARTS as a Host City Gift during delegate registration? – Richard H. Fulton, Mayor 

“Spotlight On the Arts should fill a real need in the Arts community. You have successfully pioneered a number of projects and publications and I’m sure you will do well on this one.” - Jo Walker-Meadow, Country Music Association. 

SPOTLIGHT ON THE ARTS gave me my introduction to noted Nashville sculptor, Alan LeQuire. I interviewed him three years before the unveiling of his famous sculpture, Athena Parthenos, the Greek goddess of wisdom and patron of the arts of peace, in Nashville’s Parthenon. Athena is the tallest indoor sculpture in the western world.

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Alan LeQuire in his studio. 

In 1982, Alan LeQuire competed and won the commission to recreate for the Parthenon in Nashville the lost Athena Parthenos by fifth-century Greek sculptor, Pheidias. Over the eight years it took to complete, the Athena project became the most difficult, challenging, and rewarding commission any figurative sculptor could hope for – and hope to survive. This work required LeQuire to expand his knowledge of materials and sculpting techniques, and to greatly broaden and deepen his knowledge of classical mythology. The unveiling of Athena Parthenos in 1990 made LeQuire a celebrity and figure of controversy throughout Tennessee, and it attracted favorable notice from classical scholars, archaeologists, and art critics nationwide.

In 2003, Alan LeQuire’s Musica, a bronze statue, reportedly the largest sculpture group in the United States, was unveiled at the Music Row Roundabout in Nashville. Musica features nine nude figures dancing in a circular composition approximately 38 feet tall.

Musica 046 

Alan LeQuire’s “Musica.” 

LeQuire writes of his work:

"Dance is the physical expression of music, and the piece is intended to convey that feeling to the viewer in a composition which is simple, exuberant and celebratory. The theme of the sculpture is music, because of the historical and economic significance of the site. This is the heart of Music Row, the area and the artistic activity for which Nashville is best known. The theme is music, but the sculpture represents artistic creativity itself. An artistic idea often seems to miraculously and spontaneously burst forth. This is what happens in the sculpture, and the title Musica suggests this since it refers to all the 'arts of the muses.'"

I had an excellent staff on my paper. My Assistant Editor was Nick Fabian, 23 years old, son of Jane Fabian, one of the founders of The Nashville Ballet. He graduated from Vanderbilt in 1986, traveled three times to Europe, and knew all the right people in society and the arts in Middle Tennessee. He asked for no pay, said he wanted the experience. He said, “I’m having fun!”

I remember one time Nick and I went backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. I gave a copy of Spotlight to Roy Acuff with the feature we did on him. Later, I walked by his dressing room and looked in, and he was sitting there reading the paper! He wished me success and said, “You’ve always done well with your publications – you’ll do a few issues and sell it for a million!” I asked him if that was an offer, and he smiled.

My Senior Writer, Lydia Wiggins, is still a close friend. She and Georgianna were very close, and one of Georgianna’s children’s stories is dedicated to Lydia, whose full-time job was teaching at Tennessee State University.

Tracy and her new friend, Mark Rose, worked for me, distributing the “free” papers, selling ads, making “barter” deals when advertisers couldn’t pay! They went to Memphis for our issue No. 2: Ramesses the Great Exhibit at the Memphis Convention left.

Ramesses 046 

In October 1987, the annual INDIAN POW-WOW was held in Mt. Juliet, near Nashville, with more than 60 tribes attending. Georgianna and I were there, and Iron Eyes Cody was Honorary Chairman. Remember him as the Indian with the “tear” in his eye on those wonderful TV commercials? He made more than 200 Western films.

I visited with Iron Eyes and gave him a copy of the SPOTLIGHT, which had his photo on the cover, and he signed a copy for me. Georgianna danced with the Indians in the arena; she’s the greatest!

Don’t Miss the Next Chapter: Evening of Entertainment