What Laura Hasson knew when she saw the jaw-dropping angel wings mural in Nashville was that she had to bring something similar to Maryville.
What she didn’t know at first was that she would end up hiring the artist who had painted the Nashville wings to paint two similar murals in downtown Maryville.
How did she do it? She tried really hard.
“I was persistent,” Hasson said in an interview Saturday, only an hour after two new butterfly wing murals were added to the side of the southernmost Substance Solutions wall downtown. “She said she liked my tenacity.”
“She” is Kelsey Montague, a Denver-based, globe-trotting mural artist, renown for public art that is made for more than just gazing.
Kelsey and her sister, Courtney — a dynamic artist/operations director duo, respectively — made Maryville home for two days, turning the restored brick wall tapestry into what is sure to be a new must-see landmark for the city.
For Montague, Maryville is just a small pause in a string of projects she’s contracted for. She told The Daily Times on Saturday that the projects often go by in a blur.
“I have to warn you guys, I usually don’t know where I am or where I’m going,” she laughed. “I have to look on my plane ticket and say ‘OK, what city are we in?’”
Despite the rush of a universally praised career that keeps her as famous as it does busy, Montague says her work is primarily about bringing people together.
“For me, it’s about the interactive component and also the community focus,” Montague said. “We fill images within all the pieces that we do, and I used to do that in my sketchbook and it was my way of telling a larger story.”
The big story
The butterfly wings that now grace the side of Hasson’s business are a perfect display of Montague’s larger storytelling prowess.
When Hasson’s persistency paid off and Montague’s schedule momentarily cleared up, Hasson sent designs for the mural, matching a butterfly theme with Maryville history.
“She asked me what I thought of when I thought of Maryville history,” Hasson said. “So I said, ‘Sam Houston (Schoolhouse), I said Three Sisters Mountains … wine, the greenway, hiking.’ It was just a list of things I gave her and she incorporated it like magic.”
Of course Hasson is not the first Tennessean whose eye has been caught by the magic of Montague’s work.
The artist’s work was brought into the national consciousness after Nashville-based pop megastar Taylor Swift saw a pair of Montague’s signature interactive angel wings on a New York wall and posed for an Instagram shot in 2014.
Since then, the Montague team has been taking her mesmerizing collage work and her message in the form of a hashtag question #WhatLiftsYou around the world.
But it also took her back to Nashville 2016, when she drew towering white wings on a black wall in The Gulch neighborhood. That’s where Hasson saw them and that’s why she contacted Montague.
“Having those wings (in The Gulch) brought people,” Hasson said. “Those people brought businesses.” She’s hoping the Zebra Butterfly wings — a large set for adults and a smaller set for smaller people and pets — will do the same for Maryville’s downtown.
The wings are meant to be accompaniments to a planned butterfly pocket park, a project approved by the city and spearheaded by the Maryville Downtown Association. This will be the group’s first significant project in the city.
But it’s also an extension of a theme significant to the community at large. The second hashtag on the wall is #WingsOfHope. Hasson said that a Blount County man had reached out to her and told her about how his daughter had passed away from a heroin overdose. He wanted to honor her memory in a small way.
“I think of a butterfly as it gets out of the cocoon. … That to me is a symbol of hope,” Hasson said
Symbolism, hope, artistry and inspiration seemed to merge perfectly as the project came together.
The Montague sisters headed back to their home in Denver early Sunday, but before they did, they sat in the shade of trees near the new mural and talked as a group of teenagers snapped pictures with the wings.
Kelsey Montague closed her interview with suggestions for Maryville’s own up-and-coming artists.
“My advice … is to not give up and keep doing what you’re doing. You have to love what you do, of course, but you also have to keep evolving.”
She recalls miserable days after she graduated from art school working on an indie film set, trying to figure out where she belonged. That brought her back to New York, to that iconic angel-wing mural in the city, to the Instagram post from Taylor Swift, to Nashville and, eventually, to Maryville.
She continues to evolve with her art, and now, so does the city of Maryville.
Hasson said the butterfly pocket park is set to break ground today.