Public Art in Clarksville: 4 Outstanding Statues

By Meghan E. Gattignolo 

Recently, we discussed some of the awesome murals that can be found in downtown Clarksville. Now it’s time to talk statues! City statues serve as monuments to the people who have shaped the cultural and historical landscape of a place. Clarksville has many people to salute who have brought our city to the place it finds itself in now. Here are a few statues you’ll encounter walking around downtown, and why they matter to Clarksville.  

That Angry Man Across from the Roxy 

Frank Sutton’s bronze statue on Franklin Street with his angry posture is selfie gold. Sutton was a TV and stage actor of the 1960s and 1970s. He was best-known for his portrayal of Sgt. Vince Carter within the Andy Griffith Show universe on Gomer Pyle, USMC. Because of his television success, Sutton is one of the most well-known figures to come out of Clarksville. Read more about his life in a previous blog spotlight

Sutton symbolizes a theatrical past in Clarksville that is often forgotten about. Clarksville once had several theaters. The Lillian, The Capitol, and the Elder Opera House were venues both for live performances and movies during Hollywood’s earliest days. With the Roxy Regional Theatre still here and thriving with live shows, Clarksville chooses to bring this legacy into the city’s present and future.  

That Woman Using Her Vote to Change the World 

One of Clarksville’s newer additions, titled Tennessee Triumph, is part of a longer trail of public art around the state that commemorates the passing of the 19th Amendment, as well as Tennessee’s involvement in making that happen. Tennessee was the final state needed to ratify the amendment, allowing the new law to pass in 1920. The Women’s Suffrage Heritage Trail stretches from East to West Tennessee, with statues in historically significant cities throughout.  

This statue has a special connection to the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center. The sculptor Roy Butler used era-appropriate clothing to create the art piece, specifically clothing from the Museum’s collection. Tennessee Triumph is wearing the same clothes in the same style that Clarksville women would have been wearing in the early twentieth century. Take a look at the small maquette of the statue in Public Square, on display in Heritage Hall, to get a close look at the sculpture’s details.  

That Dude on the Bench 

You may have seen the statue of the man sitting on the bench reading a newspaper just across the street from the Museum. Unveiled in 2003, the statue is called The Day After, and represents the anxieties that followed the devastating tornado that smashed into Clarksville’s historic downtown area on January 22, 1999. Along with several other buildings, The Leaf-Chronicle building – just across the street from the statue in the building now called The Press – was destroyed. In order to get the newspaper published, The Leaf-Chronicle printed in Hopkinsville, so the paper never missed a day despite the disaster.  

That Woman with the Camera and Her Dog 

Opposite the Montgomery County Courthouse from The Day After, you’ll find Nora Witzel and her little dog Nettie. Nora Witzel is an enigmatic and fascinating figure. You can read all about her life in a previous blog post.  

Nora was an uncompromising individual who did things her own way, despite some adversity. Her legacy in Clarksville is one of a spirit of entrepreneurship and bravely forging your own path in spite of what others think. Her photography skill is also still remembered in many wonderful images of Clarksville during Nora’s lifetime that simply would not exist without her.  

Want more statues and public art in Clarksville? Check out Visit Clarksville’s online public art trail to learn even more about Clarksville’s public art. Make it your mission to visit all the locations with art that tells Clarksville’s unique story.  

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. 

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