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The origins of The Nations silo mural

Nashville is full of murals that tell our city’s story, but this towering one in The Nations might make visitors and locals alike stop and stare in curiosity as to how it came to be.

An aerial view of the silo with an older adult painted on one side looking up and two small children on the other reaching upward. The railroad track and downtown skyline are in the background.

Pro tip: Park in the lot housing White Bison for a close look in person.

Photo by Alexander Wark Feeney via Unsplash

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As skyscrapers and developments crop up from downtown to East, one thing remains constant: The 200-ft silo mural depicting a Nashvillian watching the city grow before his eyes.

At the time the mural was created by Australian artist Guido van Helten, Lee Estes was 91 and had lived in the neighborhood since the 1920s.

A historical landmark

The silo formerly stood as Gillette Grain Company and is now part of Silo Bend — a 37-acre mixed-use development centered around and named after the silo. The “bend” in Silo Bend comes from the structure’s location across from a bend in the Cumberland River. The developers, Southeast Venture, partnered with Nashville Walls Project and commissioned the mural in 2017.

Guido van Helten

Van Helten was a former graffiti artist who now travels painting larger-than-life, photorealistic murals with a hyperfocus on monochromatic portraits and local elements. The artist visited The Nations for a week to craft an idea for the mural — meeting locals and learning more about the community along the way. That’s when he met the subject of his piece, Lee Estes, who was volunteering at the Saint Luke’s Community House at the time.

Lee Estes

Saint Luke’s Community House plays more than one role in this story. According to an interview, Estes said the only place he could go for fun was Saint Luke’s, where he played basketball and went to dances. He later began volunteering at the center on Thursdays and participating in the senior program’s exercise classes and restaurant gatherings.

Look closely

Not hidden, but not in plain sight, the backside of the mural portrays two children from the Saint Luke’s Community House standing at 130 ft tall.

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