In May, I contacted Emily Harper Beard at the Frist Center, an art museum in Nashville, to plan my summer of “Genma’s Frist Center Adventures.” I started my conversation with an enthusiastic, “Hey, you need me, and here’s what I need you to do!” I rattled off a list of upcoming events that I wanted to host at the museum because I wanted to make sure it was the Frist Center’s “best year yet.” Never mind the crazy phone introduction, we would work through all of that later, I thought to myself. After what seemed an eternity of silence on the other end, Emily finally said, “How do you say your name again?”
That was the start of a summer to remember for me. The museum has several wonderful exhibits that I believe everyone in Nashville and beyond must see. I decided this would be one of the best and most diverse years at the museum and I nominated myself to be the Chairperson of the “Committee of One” to make it happen. I have always loved art; it’s my other therapy! When I homeschooled, the museum was our art class every week. And my fashion background and love of fashion are not secrets in this town. To have an exhibition that features couture gowns was more than this girl from the country could bear. I have spent nearly every day at the museum drooling over the gowns or hosting tours.
By June, I had several events planned to bring young and old, ladies and gentlemen, art collectors and Crayola doodlers, church folks and heathens, as well as the fashionably challenged and ultra chic to visit the Frist Center. I called the Oasis Center, home school, private, and public school families to schedule tour dates; no one was left out. Of course, everyone is a friend or customer and had heard me talk non-stop about the exhibits, especially the Golden Age of Couture exhibit. This year, graduation and birthday gifts were tickets or family memberships to the Frist Center.
I got to know every staff member and volunteer by name. We all worked together to make each outing special and exciting for the various groups of friends I brought to see the exhibits. The staff adopted me as their official pesty ambassador. After several group tours, I expressed my desire to Emily and Ellen Pryor, Director of Communications, to do a fashion shoot at the museum that would depict looks from the exhibit with a modern twist. They thought the idea was wonderful and allowed me to set up the arrangements.
I was elated by my new project and would go to bed with the dresses and suits in my head. After bringing in several groups of women to see the exhibit, I heard firsthand what looks were everyone’s favorite styles from the exhibit. By the beginning of July, I had a similar copy of every suit, gown, or dress from the exhibit. Between my closet and Joyce Searcy’s closets, Gloria McKissack’s hats and gloves, and a few extra items I picked up here and there, I believed I had dresses that were worthy of being photographed at the Frist Center.
The clothes and accessories were easy, but nailing down models and finding photographers to shoot for a day or two would be more challenging. I met with several photographers who stared at me as if I was a psycho talking when I told them of my vision. But after meeting with several who were non-believers in my idea, Roland’s Photography agreed to shoot the fall suits at his studio and Aaron Crisler agreed to shoot the evening gowns at the Frist Center.
After securing the photographers, the next item on my list was to contact my girlfriends who were models. Someone who modeled for years should not have a problem finding models, right? Wrong. Never ask a professional model to do a job for the good of the community. One by one, I was asked “How much?” Or I was given their agent’s number! “Are you kidding me?” I shouted. “How quickly we forget when you had roaches,” I said to a few. Anyway, God provides. I asked Joyce Searcy, Gloria McKissack, and Carol Creswell-Betsch to be my “role” models and had a mom, Pam Ward, to recruit her daughters and younger girls for me. Emily even recruited a friend of hers as well, Richelle Desire’.
Well folks, hell and high water came on Thursday. The rain reminded me of the day before the Nashville’s May flood. What a mess! The rain was so blinding, I drove two miles per hours it seemed. I had a vehicle packed with clothing and props while taking calls from Joyce and Gloria. Did I mention that the makeup artist canceled ten minutes before I got to the Frist Center? I wanted to die. Wait, I mean I wanted to kill her! By the time I made it to the Frist Center, I ditched looking dignified. I pulled my pest control truck on the sidewalk on the Frist Center’s Broadway entrance with sponge rollers in my hair and started unloading in the rain. The looks on some folks’ faces were worthy of a masterpiece painting.
Once inside, things started to turn around and flowed in ways that were unexpected and welcomed. One of the security guards (Louis) knew a makeup artist, Skot Williams, whom I booked sight unseen. To my amazement, he was there in less than 20 minutes. Aaron Crisler came in all his glory and Ellen and Emily pulled interns from God knows where who spent the day helping. By the time the models started to arrive, we had lights and cameras ready to roll.
Gloria, Carol, and Joyce were photographed first. The young ladies, ages 15-22, sat without pouting or puffing. Their lovely personalities and gentle spirits made me so grateful I was not dealing with professional models with bad attitudes. They were in awe of watching the makeup artist and photographer work effortlessly. I gave each one an exhibition guide so they would know where their dress fit into the lineup. Many of them had seen the exhibit and were aware of the “look” we were recreating. When it was their turn in front of the camera, you would have thought I had pros from Milan.
We actually started on time. Can you believe it? While we were in the fashion world’s hurry-up-and-wait mode, I shared with my entourage the contributions that the Espy and Searcy, the McKissack, and the Creswell-Betsch families made during the Civil Rights era and the many firsts of our true “role” models that they were watching. Hmm, something magical was happening on my adventure. There we were on a photo shoot in one of the most beautiful settings imaginable, and I was giving history lessons. God is good.
I could not have planned a more perfect day. Young ladies who were eager to learn were being taught history: cultural, civic, and art. Mature women were teaching young ladies by their actions: volunteering, being leaders with their lives, and giving the girls memories that they would never forget. I had the opportunity to work with one of our country’s best non-profits which showed me they were open to new ideas and love to have fun at the same time while investing time and resources into young people. What an adventure! I can’t wait to share with the world the photos from my very special day at the Frist Center.