Beloved Nashville artist commissioned for church's bicentennial painting

Ponder Vine Street Painting
Posted at 8:05 PM, Aug 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-15 11:45:24-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn.. (WTVF) — Vine Street Christian Church on Harding Pike has a firm foundation in Nashville -- one that stretches back to when the church was actually on Vine Street.

"That was after being in three different locations downtown," said Rev. Thomas Kleinert, senior minister at Vine Street. "It’s incredible to think there’s a congregation that’s been around for that long,"

So the congregation planned a big celebration to mark their Bicentennial celebration. "But then the pandemic happened so we pretty much canceled everything in the spring," said Rev. Kleinert.

That was last year. So how do you celebrate 201 years in the making? With a piece of art that might last just as long.

"I don’t get up any day of the week and say -- I don’t want to do this today. I work this in," said Phil Ponder, a former Metro Councilman and beloved Nashville artist.

The church really only considered Ponder for the job, who's large canvases fixate on the tiniest details. "I get my magnifying glass out and I count the bricks," said Ponder.

Most of his paintings focus on Nashville landmarks and skylines. Ponder has been perfecting his method for the last five decades. "First, I take a series of pictures, and this is probably the best example of that, to show architecturally what’s involved with the particular project," he said.

To call him a calculated artist really doesn't do it justice. "I came up with 27 rows of bricks per inch," explained Ponder.

The 89-year-old might even be more precise with his colors. "I probably use 50 different little tubes of paint but you can see there are probably 400 different variations here because I mix," he said.

Ponder uses watercolor paint and mixes to paint each individual brick a different shade. "As you use up the paint on the brush, you get different shades anyway," said Ponder.

Among the minutia of his work is a signature touch. In every painting he does, Ponder includes a pigeon he's named Happy. "He’s sitting right here on the top of the church," he said. "Evidently it makes other people happy too, that’s why I keep doing it."

For Ponder, the devil isn't in the details. Actually, it's the complete opposite. "I don’t create art. God created everything. I am his servant that portrays a memory for somebody. So I’m in the business of making memories," said Ponder.

You might say, that's a firm foundation to start a painting that may end up a prized possession for Vine Street Christian Church.

"Because it’s such a Nashville story and he’s the Nashville artist," said Rev. Kleinert.

Vine Street Christian Church will unveil Ponder's artwork in October, when they hold their belated Bicentennial celebration. Ponder is also putting the finishing touches on a coffee table, which will go on sale towards the end of October.