By Meghan E. Gattignolo
Nashville resident and artist Brenda Stein doesn’t know what she’d do without her trusty chainsaw. Finding fallen wood in the forest or on the side of the road is a treat for her. Raw wood is her blank canvas. The chainsaw makes it possible for her to cut found wood into manageable chunks to take home and create new pieces of art. For a woman who began her artist journey in clay, carving objects from wood might seem like a big leap. However, for Brenda, it was a natural progression. After she and her father built a dollhouse together for Brenda’s children, she continued to explore the world of woodworking. Before long, she bought a lathe and began turning wood into timeless treasures.
Preserving Precious Memories
Art is indeed beautiful, but sometimes art has other purposes. One use Brenda has found in her artwork is to preserve the memories of well-loved trees by using their wood to create beautiful new objects for those who commission her work. In one interview, Brenda mentions one of her favorite instances of doing this was when she was contacted by an arborist to help a woman who lost one of a pair of old oak trees in front her home after a severe storm. Brenda created several treasures for the woman, a memorial to the beloved tree. As a lover of nature and trees herself, Brenda knows people can have special attachments to certain trees, and does her best to honor that relationship in her work.
Rise Above at the Nashville Public Library Bellevue Branch
Soaring to New Heights
Brenda became interested in creating public art upon her commission with the city of Nashville for the Nashville Public Library’s Bellevue Branch. In 2014, Brenda set out on the new experience of designing and directing the installation of a new public work. Using the wood of hackberry trees that were removed during the library’s construction, Brenda hit on a simple yet elegant design. The birds that now fly high inside the library are reminders to readers that an open book can take you anywhere. Following this experience, Brenda created another permanent installation in 2021 for Montgomery Bell Academy. This time, she created a flock of red tail hawks to fly inside the Wellness Center of the school, carved from the salvaged wood from a 256-year-old sycamore tree from the campus to add historical significance to the work.
As an artist, Brenda knows no bounds. She began her artist journey woodturning as a hobby with no formal training, and sought out help and inspiration from master artists. Her mentor Charles Alvis helped her blossom into the artist she is today.
Brenda has been featured in Nashville Arts Magazine, Tennessee Crossroads and The Tennessean, among other publications. Her work has been commissioned by Tennessee institutions such as Vanderbilt University, the Tennessee State Museum and the city of Nashville. She has also been commissioned by private citizens all over the world.
Even though Brenda is best known for her wood sculptures, she has since branched out beyond woodturning. Since 2015, Brenda has incorporated figurative sculpture within her artistic repertoire. After an apprenticeship under artist Jamie Williams funded by grants from the Tennessee Arts Commission, Brenda has gained new skills. She now sculpts human faces and hands out of wood and resin, using molding and casting techniques to design the work. Brenda’s new art adventures don’t mean she’s given up on woodturning, though. She still very much enjoys the instant gratification she gets from finding a piece of wood out in the world and giving it new life.
Come check out Brenda’s latest work in Brenda Stein: A New View on display in the Harvill Gallery now, extended until January 24th!
Meghan E. Gattignolo is a freelance writer and longtime Clarksville, TN resident. She loves to obsess about historical subjects and annoy her family daily with unsolicited random facts. Meghan holds a History B.A. from Austin Peay State University and lives in town with her husband and two daughters.