Cheekwood’s Choo-Choos

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For many artists, childhood passions inspire adult work.  Take Paul Busse, for instance. The artist who created the new Trains! Tennessee in G exhibit at Cheekwood, adored trains when he was 5 years old when he received his first American Flyer train. Years later, he graduated with a degree in landscape architecture. Those two passions brilliantly collide in the career Busse has made for himself as a train garden designer.

Before seeing the new exhibit, I envisioned it as perhaps similar to last year’s Chihuly exhibit that adorned the grounds – several displays sprawled out across the lush property. Instead, Trains! is contained to one area, tucked behind the Roberson Ellis Color Garden adjacent to the Visitor Center (where you purchase admission and pick up your wrist band).

The exhibit is mighty cool, however, and a big hit with the little ones (several were there on the day of my visit). Seven garden-scale trains (including Thomas the Tank!) travel across more than 1,000 feet of track that wind around a fanciful wonderland adorned with bridges and a landscape comprising more than 2,500 tiny trees and shrubs along with 250 varieties of flowering plants (the plants and décor are set to change throughout the seasons and around specific holidays).

Keeping a local theme, Busse created wooden replicas of 19 famous landmark buildings found throughout the state of Tennessee … everything from Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis to our own Ryman Auditorium. Kids are sure to have fun roving throughout the display (but no touching!) and discovering each structure nestled within the flora.

It’s certainly a fascinating look at an artist’s talent and vision for something that strikes a chord in the kid in all of us … and through Cheekwood’s weekly family programs (Saturday AM and Tuesdays for Tots) this month and beyond, your kids can tap into their imaginations after seeing the exhibit and explore their own creative ventures. If you’ve got preschoolers, be sure to check out Tales & Rails happening every Tuesday this month at 10:30 a.m. After exploring Trains!, kids can hear a reading of a different railroad-themed story each week.

And of course, this month is a prime time to be at Cheekwood anyway to enjoy the vibrant colors across the property. That in itself will inspire all-things artistic no matter how young or old you are!

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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