While in Nashville recently, a friend suggested we check out Cheekwood Estate and Gardens. It’s about 20ish minutes outside the downtown area. While planning out our trip, I saw that they had a Bruce Munro exhibit at Cheekwood which got me excited. I visited Sensoria in Paso Robles last year, and it was breathtaking. Acres and acres of changing lights, viewed in the darkness.
The beauty of visiting Cheekwood during this exhibition is you can see both Bruce Munro’s installation and the gardens and estate at one time. And they have their fall decor up. They only offer the Bruce Munro installation viewing on specific nights, and admission is after the end of the normal day – so you come in after Cheekwood closes to the general public.
After parking we went first to the train exhibit, as it was super close to the parking lot. Wow – that was an impressive train set (well, multiple train types) and creative fairy-like settings. Definitely someone for both adults and kids. We would have spent more time there but we wanted to see all of Cheekwood before it got dark.
We were in Cheekwood Labor Day weekend, so the pumpkins were out, but there may be a lot more fall fun for you now. I think they are selling pumpkins in October – they weren’t when we were there. but lots of creative displays of them were out when we were there.
You can definitely wander around and see most of Cheekwood in an hour or two, but you’ll be walking quickly. We wanted to make sure to at least get the lay of the land before nightfall. They’ll give you a map when you enter.
This garden pond with flamingos is below the Cheekwood estate. It is part of the terraced gardens with boxwood plantings. Not sure why there were flamingos in there – if it was part of the Munro exhibit or something else. But it was kind of fun to see.
Cheekwood Botanic Garden Art
We stumbled upon the sculpture trails, I think there are a few of them. My kid recognized this James Turrell sculpture as being the same artist as one in Phoenix, which made Grandma proud (Grandma having taken the kid there years back). This one was revealed as we walked through a walkway, not realizing what was inside. It was gorgeous to look up and see the sky from inside a domed structure.
There were a lot of different sculptures in the gardens, and this was one of the odder ones that got us into a discussion. Is it a rabbit? A human? What the heck? We went back at night too, as you can see the white bulbs popping up around it are part of the light installation.
Lots of gorgeous flowers, though some areas have seasonal blooms. These were just so pretty! It was hard to narrow the flower photos down for this post.
The Cheekwood Estate
We waited until evening to go into the Cheekwood estate (it’s an additional charge and worth it). The home was built by Leslie and Mabel Cheek in the late 1920s. You can see pictures of the interior on the link above, along with a Bruce Munro chandelier in the swirling staircase picture (red carpeted stairs, black railings). the chandelier is really long and uses the same fibers used in the exhibits, shining the light out of the gold cones at the bottom. It’s quite stunning in person. One level of the house has the furnishings and other decorative things from the house.
Up those rounded stairs is the Cheekwood art gallery. While we were there, there was an additional exhibit of Bruce Munro work – this time on the walls. It was great to see what else he does – it’s not all light work. They had a video of him speaking as well, but we didn’t have time to watch it.
The George Washington photo above may look familiar. It is part of their permanent collection, and painted by Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington. There are others like this in collections around the country.
By now it was dark and we went back out to see the Bruce Munro installation. Below a trellis, we walked through these beautiful moving lights above, which also had music accompanying them.
We were surprised to learn that the original owners of the Cheekwood Estate got their wealth primarily from investing in Maxwell House Coffee. We first learned this when going into the cafe to get some food that evening. On the nights the gardens are open for the Munro installation, they have adorable trailers out serving cocktails and chips. But we needed something a little more substantial and were happy to see the cafe was still open. We saw the signs in the cafe about Maxwell House Coffee.
Leslie Cheek invested in his father’s cousin’s (Joel Cheek) coffee business. While initially just selling beans, Joel decided to sell pre-roasted and canned coffee so people could make coffee at home, in 1889. What a concept! They served it at the Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville, a high-end hotel where presidents stayed. It burned down in the 1960s,, but the coffee took its name from the hotel (presumably with the hotel’s blessing). President William Howard Taft apparently said it was “good to the last drop” when drinking it 1907, giving it the famous tagline. The company’s advertising history is outlined in the cafe. Postum Company bought the Cheek-Neal Coffee Company (which owned Maxwell House) for $43 million
I think my favorite lights were the ones in the Japanese garden. These orbs changed lights and looked like they were filled with bubbles. Not sure what was actually in them but they were lovely to watch.
Much of the installation included these orbs which look like a spider web when you look closely at the ground. The bulbs change colors and are spread out over acres of the land there. They are lovely and mesmerizing. There are a few benches along the way where you can stop and take it all in, as well as areas to lean. We saw kids with their parents too. Just be careful walking, because it is dark!
If you go
Tickets to Cheekwood’s Bruce Munro exhibit: Runs May 4, 2023-October 27, 2023 . Tickets are Tuesday to Saturday evenings, starting at 5:30. You need a timed ticket.
Check out all the other things to do in Nashville – without kids.