Friday, January 29, 2021

Meet the artist whose work features vanishing treasure

Professional artist Peggy Snow stands next to her work-in-progress creation at the
 old Primm farm in Brentwood, Tenn. In the right background stands a slave cabin -- one
of two that will be featured in her latest painting.  

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Peggy Snow and I stand by the side of a road in booming Brentwood, Tenn., the roar of traffic on busy Moores Lane obliterating part of our conversation. In the distance to our left, peeking above the trees, stand houses in a tony subdivision; to our right stand an ancient farmhouse and two slave cabins. In front of Snow rests the 62-year-old's magic set: an easel. oil paints, drawing charcoal, and a 36-by-36-inch canvas.

I showed Peggy Snow this long-ago work
by my paternal grandmother, Mary Banks.
A longtime professional artist, Snow is here to create a painting featuring historic treasure that soon may vanish. Unless a group or a wealthy individual step up, the antebellum Primm farmhouse will be demolished. Thankfully, a developer aims to save the small, log slave cabins, remarkable survivors from the 19th century. (Update: House saved!)

In her outdoor studio, Snow is dressed for the January cold: blue scarf, brown vest, heavy coat, and a tan fedora former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry surely would have appreciated. 

Another writer described Snow, who lives in Brentwood,  as the "architectural angel of death." When she shows up to paint a subject, it's usually doomed. But it's difficult  for me to wrap my head around that description of the 5-foot-2 bundle of giggles and laughs.

Snow and I share a mutual appreciation -- a love, actually -- for the past. And for impressionist painting, too. Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh are among her favorite artists. Mine is my grandmother, so I show her an image on my iPhone of an outdoor scene painted long ago by Mary Banks.

The antebellum Primm farmhouse in Brentwood, Tenn., soon may be demolished.
These two slave cabins -- included in Peggy Snow's painting -- will be saved from the wrecking ball.

Born in Nashville and schooled as an artist in Memphis, Snow is drawn to old structures -- decrepit barns, crumbling brick buildings, anything distinctive and set for a wrecking ball. For decades, she has "chased things that were about to disappear." The Primm farmhouse meets her criteria. 

Abandoned and dilapidated, the Greek Revival-style house was home to a succession of Primms, a family among the earliest to settle in this area of middle Tennessee. In 1845, slaveholder Thomas Perkins Primm is believed to have greatly expanded a log cabin built four decades earlier, probably by physician Jabez Owen. Dairy farmer Charlie Primm, who died in 2011, is the last direct Primm family member to own the property.

A close-up of Peggy Snow's work in progress.
I tell Snow of my November visit to the property. A 19th-century mahogany veneer couch sits in the living room of the farmhouse, near carpets that lay haphazardly on the floor. Paint peels from each of the four Doric columns at the entryway. The slave cabins, which include the original flooring, are packed with 21st-century clutter.

When Snow read about the farmhouse's probable demise, her heart jumped. "I'm not ready." she tells me, "for it to be taken down." And so she scouted out painting positions on public property near the farm, finally settling on a spot near a white fence. 

We glance toward her subject matter -- the red-roofed farm house under a deep-blue sky, the slave cabins and another old outbuilding. Then our attention turns to a leafless oak in the side yard. “I never get tired of conveying that beauty,” she says of the massive tree. 

Typically between 2 and 3 p.m. Snow sets up her easel and creates until dark. Somehow she blots out the whoosh of traffic. "It's easy to focus once I get to this spot," she says. "There's nothing else to do but draw." Snow has weeks to go before her creation -- which she aims to sell -- is finished.

"I want to be as good as Monet and Van Gogh," Snow says. "I think I can be. It's my drive, my challenge."

Before I leave, I mention another Peggy -- my mom, the sweetest lady on our block in Mount Lebanon, Pa. She died in 2018. 

"Oh, I miss my mom, too," Snow says.

And so we part, as the sun hangs low in the winter sky. We each have a foot planted in the present, but another firmly rooted in the past.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

-- View Peggy Snow's artwork here.


  1. Thanks John, Peggy is a fantastic artist. I'm so glad you took time to interview her! I love her work as well, that coming from a woman raised in Oakmont PA to Nashville.

  2. Anonymous10:44 AM

    Very good, comprehensive article. Well done.

  3. I would not paint — a picture —
    I'd rather be the One
    It's bright impossibility
    To dwell — delicious — on —
    And wonder how the fingers feel
    Whose rare — celestial — stir —
    Evokes so sweet a torment —
    Such sumptuous — Despair —
    Emily Dickinson (J#505)

    Didi is so Proud of her Most Talented Gogo!