History of the Tour

In 1999, fourteen Brown County artists joined forces to start something new, an event to  showcase the artwork and natural beauty of the place they called home.

There was plenty of artwork on display in galleries and shops in downtown Nashville, and visitors were coming to see it.  Potter Larry Spears and his wife Jan had moved to Brown County from Gatlinburg, TN, where they had participated in a tour of artists’ studios.  They thought the Nashville gallery visitors would be interested in seeing the working spaces of  artists and learning about how the artwork is made, and that they could replicate a studio tour in Brown County.  The Spears gathered together like-minded artists, and together they decided  to invite the public to their working studios out in the county.

The artists were right, the visitors came, and a tradition was born!  Every year since then, in one form or another, Brown County has hosted a studio tour.

The first studio tour included folk art painter Amanda Mathis, potter Larry Spears, and clay artist Cheri Platter, who are celebrating the 20th anniversary tour by displaying together this year at the studio of Amanda Mathis.  Joining them at Amanda’s studio this year is stained glass artist Anne Ryan Miller, who joined the tour the second year.  Chris Gustin, of Homestead Weaving studio, joined the tour the third year, and still participates with her husband Bob in their studio today.

he first tour also included painter Shelley Frederick; painter Helein Hart; weavers Joan Haab & Kathleen McGow; Denny Heiny; jeweler/fiber artist Peggy Henderson; woodworker Joe Henderson; Gary Pearce; painter Kaye Pool; painter Frederick Rigley; and woodworker William Root.

“The tour was envisioned to promote working artists and their studios,” says original tour artist Amanda Mathis. “We still promoted Nashville, and always considered the tour as an enhancement to all Brown County had to offer.”

Some things haven’t changed. Much like today, the first tour was a grassroots effort by the artists, organizing themselves, creating the brochure themselves, and supported and promoted by the Convention and Visitor Bureau, business owners such as Andy and Fran Rogers, and the Chamber of Commerce. The early brochures were created by fellow Brown County artist Susan Ahbe. The first tour was headquartered at Story Inn, which continues to support the tour today.

Just as it remains today, the Brown County Studio Tour of 20 years ago was a refreshing look into life in Brown County, away from the autumn congestion of Nashville. The artwork was, and continues to be, a wide range of mediums that represents the best of what Brown County has to offer.

“Getting a new project of such a large magnitude off the ground is challenging, to say the least,” says Chris Gustin, who joined the tour in year three. “So the fact that the tour is successful 20 years later is a testament to the hard work and vision of the artists involved over all 20 years.  Over time, the tour has gained a reputation of being a great way to see how artists live and what they do.”

Of course, some things have changed over the years.  The tour has grown, for instance, from a dozen studios and fourteen artists that first year to 22 studios and 32 artists in 2018 (our largest tour yet!).  Promotion is still done with the help of the Convention and Visitor Bureau, but is augmented by social media and networking that wasn’t available 20 years ago.  The T.C. Steele State Historic Site has joined the tour, and the headquarters was moved to the Visitor Center in Nashville.  The tour was moved from June to October, and expanded from one weekend to include an entire month.  Gardens have been included in the past, and, though not officially a part of the tour, are beautiful at several studio locations.

“We always look forward to the tour,” says Chris Gustin. “We have people that come back nearly every year.”

Want to join in the tradition?  Every day throughout the month of October, the artists’ studios will be open to the public.  Start with our list of participating artists and our tour map.