Flying High Artists: Signature Pieces with a Statement 

By Meghan E. Gattignolo 

Flying High has been one of Clarksville’s premier events for 40 years. The Museum’s main fundraising function, Flying High always proves to be an exciting party. Local celebrities, dinner, music and good vibes create the perfect atmosphere for an amazing night. Everyone remembers their first Flying High. 

A major part of the evening is the live auction, and at the center is the signature piece. Created specifically for the fundraiser by a chosen artist, the unveiling of the signature piece is an exciting element in the lead up to Flying High. For the first 10 years of the event, artist and museum founder Peg Harvill created Flying High’s signature piece. She set the standard that artists throughout the years since have had to live up to. Here’s a few signature pieces that definitely do Harvill proud.

Soon Gone. James Diehr, 2019. (Photo by Justin Kaicles).

James Diehr – 2019

James Diehr is a former art teacher retired from Austin Peay. Diehr now spends much of his time putting into practice the techniques he’s worked so hard to instill in his students for years. He uses many different kinds of media in his work, and creates both sculptures and paintings. The recognizable aluminum mockingbirds the Arts and Heritage Council has affixed to historic buildings and areas of cultural significance around downtown Clarksville are one product of Diehr’s work.

Another example of Diehr’s accomplishments as an artist is 2019’s Flying High Signature Piece, “Soon Gone”. This watercolor of a vibrant steam-powered riverboat highlights a period of time in Clarksville when riverboats were a major source of travel and transportation of goods. Access to a river was a big reason so much wealth existed in the Clarksville community in the 19th century and helped make the city what it has become today.

Preserving the Past. Silke Tyler, 2000.

Silke Tyler – 2000

Few Clarksville residents are more unique than Silke Tyler. Tyler has lived in Tennessee with her family since 1991, and has since become a local legend. Her bakery, Silke’s Old World Breads, has been Clarksville’s favorite bakery for 24 years. Tyler is not only a prolific artist and entrepreneur, but she is also a photographer, a teacher, an energy healer and a mentor among many other interests. She cannot be labeled. 

As the last century – and millennia – ended, it was natural for people to think about what the future would bring to Clarksville’s historic downtown. The signature piece for 2000, “Preserving the Past” by Silke Tyler, contemplates what still remains of Clarksville’s past. She approaches the iconic 1898 building from an angle overlooked by most artists. Instead of looking at the building head-on or from the corner, Tyler’s painting views it from down the street. The view includes other details in the foreground, highlighting the importance of maintaining historic buildings for future generations. The other elements almost crowd out the museum in the background, but it still maintains a strong presence.

Tribute to Our Spires. Frank Lott, 1999.

Frank Lott – 1999

Now Executive Director of The Customs House Museum & Cultural Center, Frank Lott has been involved with supporting the Museum in some form or fashion since the very beginning. Not only is he an avid patron of the arts, he’s an artist himself. Much of Lott’s work features Clarksville history as its subject matter in nostalgic watercolors. In 1999, Lott was the artist chosen to create Flying High’s signature piece. The event took place a matter of months following the fateful F4 tornado that hit downtown Clarksville on January 22, 1999. The tornado destroyed several buildings around 2nd Street, 3rd, and Franklin, as well doing severe damage to the Austin Peay State University campus. 

Appropriately, in the painting he submitted as the signature piece that year, Lott chose to highlight something several buildings lost that day – their spires. “Tribute to Our Spires” is a poignant ode to the sadness Clarksville residents felt after the tornado. Clarksville loves its historic buildings and Lott’s beautiful painting is one way to preserve the past.

Enjoy even more gorgeous Flying High Signatures on exhibit from now until August 11, 2024, in the Josten’s Gallery.

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 children. 

Back to Blog