Michael Phillips’ out-of-the-way gallery is catching on with local art fans.
Travel a few miles south on Wilson Pike and you’ll find an art gallery with a history that’s as quirky as the one-lane, beneath-the-railroad-tracks, hairpin-turn you have to make to get there.
You know you’re in for something special when you pull into the parking lot and see the original, 1970s-era gas pumps in front of the boxy old general store that’s now Ansbach Artisans.
Once inside, the surprises continue. Instead of a dim and dusty space, the room is open, bright and engaging. But you’ll note the contrast when owner Michael Phillips describes the building’s fascinating, if somewhat seedy past.
“When it was built in the 1920s, this was the only place for miles where people could go to spend money,” he says. “The original building burned down and was rebuilt in 1956 and this is where we’re standing now.
“There was a lady who baked biscuits for a group of men who were playing cards in the back. That eventually became breakfast and they opened to serve the public. Then they added lunch.
“So it’s been a diner and a gas station and a workshop. But I’ve heard stories from some of the neighbors so there’s really no telling what has happened here.”
The building was last known as Jamison’s Market but it stood empty for about a year before Phillips bought it two years ago. It needed upkeep, to say the least, and was completely gutted and renovated.
That renovation resulted in a gallery that is fulfilling Phillips’ longstanding dream of providing an “artist friendly” environment. “I wanted more than a great contract for artists; I wanted a great gallery,” he says. “Everything in here is original. There are no reproductions and all the artists are from Middle Tennessee.”
The gallery takes its name from Ansbach, Germany, a town near the small village where Phillips and his wife, Regina, lived before moving to Tennessee with their four children in 2014.
A self-taught woodworker, Phillips spent 20 years in the Army flying Huey and Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. He began honing his craft after retiring in 2009 and focuses on creating functional furniture made from exotic hardwoods. When his house could no longer contain all the things he built, he decided to sell some pieces online. Within two hours he sold his first piece.
His personal workshop is in a room next to the gallery and it is there that he turns out desks, tables, chairs and unique wine racks that are converted from old upright pianos.
“As we traveled, we’d always meet artists,” says Phillips. “In this gallery we try to promote that connection between artists and clients. There are so many great artists in this area so there is no need to go anywhere else.”
Ansbach Artisans brings artists and prospective clients together on the final Saturday of each month with its ongoing Saturday Night Live Art program. The gallery bustles from 6 to 9 p.m. with featured artists painting, carving and creating as they interact with guests. Admission to the event is free and open to the public.
“It started shortly after we opened because we are too far removed to be a part of the Franklin ArtScene,” says Phillips. “Artists enjoy it as much as, if not more than, the visitors. They’re able to collaborate. It’s a stimulating environment. They get instant feedback.”
And they do so in one of the most unlikely of places.
For more information about Ansbach Artisans and Saturday Night Live Art, visit AnsbachArtisans.com.