John Shearer: 1930 Frank Baisden Map Of Chattanooga Offers Nostalgia

Monday, June 18, 2018 - by John Shearer

Nancy Richer of Knoxville is an avid shopper at estate sales and flea markets and is also regularly looking for ways to honor the memory of her late mother, Lillian Silverman Richer, who grew up in Chattanooga.

 

While perusing some items at the Green Acres flea market off Alcoa Highway outside Knoxville recently, she came across an unusual poster-like map of Chattanooga done in 1930 at a time when her mother would have lived here.

 

“There was a guy who was a big dealer and he said he had been at an estate sale in Etowah of somebody who worked in Chattanooga,” Ms. Richer said.

 

While the man told her he planned to take some of the items he found to another sale, she noticed and was able to purchase the map for only $3 after the dealer originally asked $4.

 

“I couldn’t take my eyes off of it,” she said, believing it is rare and unusual.

 

The map was published by the Chattanooga chapter of the American Association of University Women, and another copy with slightly different coloring was found in the Chattanooga Public Library’s local history department map collection.

 

Discovering how many other copies exist might take further research, but it appears to be a piece of the past one might not come across often in 2018.

 

It was done by the late local artist and former University of Chattanooga art instructor Frank Baisden in a style that seems to blend sophisticated art and folk art.

 

With descriptive writing of the places, the map also appears to entertain and engage the viewer as much as direct him or her geographically.

 

For example, almost every geographical feature of Chattanooga and the surrounding communities shown includes a colorful description of the place. Of Sand Mountain, it said it is “the delight of sportsmen and ‘revenuers,’ ” the latter perhaps a reference to moonshining.

 

The map also said that St. Elmo was the “scene of the novel,” a reference to the famous 19th century book for which the community was named.

 

The geographical poster also spaces out the naming of Brainerd at its location, causing a viewer to have to look around for a period to find the name in full. And it creatively calls Cameron Hill in its 1930 state “an Acropolis without the Parthenon,” a reference to Athens, Greece.

 

Perhaps Chattanoogans of today never knew the hill, later lowered during the mid-20th century as part of urban renewal, was a little like the one in Greece.

 

He also points out other long-forgotten facts, including that the streets going up to the residential areas of Cameron Hill were considered very steep, that Elder Mountain was “very wild with only occasional cabins and farms,” and that the South Broad Street area was known for tenement houses and factories.

 

It also mentions the now-gone old forest service-like DeLong Tower for visitors to climb on Missionary Ridge, and calls what became Ochs Highway going up Lookout Mountain by its 1930 name – Johnson Pike.

 

The map also shows the now mostly off-limits Umbrella Rock at Point Park, and nearby West Brow on the mountain, which was the location of “many beautiful homes and gardens.” And Mr. Baisden mentions that the Tennessee River was “too thick to navigate – too thin to cultivate” in those pre-TVA days.

 

Of the then-operating Fort Oglethorpe cavalry post, he writes that the “cavalry rides there, as well as the debutantes,” and that “polo is played there in season.”

 

The map also features mini-paintings of familiar local landmarks, including the John Ross House and the Patten Chapel at the University of Chattanooga.

 

It is known Mr. Baisden did the map, because it said “Frank Baisden pinxit,” which is Latin for “Frank Baisden painted it.”

 

At the time the map was being published, Mr. Baisden was only in his mid-20s and just a year or two removed from founding the art department at UC, later UTC.

 

Born in the Atlanta community of East Point in 1904, he had grown up in Chattanooga and graduated from Chattanooga “City” High School on East Third Street as the class poet.

 

He went on to study at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts and also studied art abroad in a number of countries. He also taught at Bright School, the independent elementary school then in Fort Wood, and was active in the Chattanooga Art Association, which went on to start what is now known as the Hunter Museum of American Art.

 

Single at the time the map was done, he was re-introduced to his future wife, the former Kay Rolin, while giving an art talk during an exhibition at UC during the World War II era. At the time, she was a Women’s Army Corps (WAC) member working at Fort Oglethorpe in public relations.

 

Mr. Baisden had actually met his wife while in school in her former home area of Philadelphia. She had been an outstanding field hockey player as a young woman and also worked in theater productions with the noted and innovative Group Theatre, with which former Chattanoogan Dorothy Patten was involved.

 

The couple had no children.

 

During the war, Mr. Baisden had served in Europe painting decoy tanks and troops to distract the German army, his obituary said.

 

Over the years, the Baisdens lived in such places as Mexico, and also ran an orange orchard in Vero Beach, Fla. He had an art studio at New Salem on Lookout Mountain, and they also lived there, as did fellow artist Fannie Mennen of Plum Nelly art show distinction.

 

In addition to his work that was sold to private clients, he was involved in the “arts in embassies” program headed up by Nancy Kefauver, wife of Sen. Estes Kefauver from Chattanooga. Mr. Baisden had many exhibits of his work at various places over the years, including his later home in the former St. Barnabas retirement facility next to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Chattanooga.

 

A glance at some of his works online shows a man who focused largely on landscapes and architecture and used a variety of media, although a number of his paintings were done in watercolor.

 

Some of his paintings seem to have a dark tint rather than a bright one, and he could be described as using the painterly style, or painting in a way that celebrates the medium in which it was created.

 

Mr. Baisden died in 1998 at the age of 94 and was buried at the memorial gardens of Church of the Good Shepherd, Episcopal, on Lookout Mountain. His wife had died in 1993.

 

Like Mr. Baisden, Ms. Richer’s mother had also attended Chattanooga High, but about 10 years after he did. An accomplished piano and organ player who was part of an orchestra that performed during a show on WDOD, she was the daughter of a Jewish optometrist, Charles Silverman, who had emigrated from Russia. He had gone to an optometry school in Montgomery, Ala., Nancy Richer said.

 

The family, who was active in B’nai Zion Synagogue, lived for a number of years at 408 Pine St. in a home later razed during the Cameron Hill urban renewal program, when Olgiati Bridge and the Interstate freeway system were constructed.

 

Once while the noted baseball player Hank Greenberg was in town for a youth clinic for Jewish youngsters at Warner Park, he was brought to the Silverman house and met her mother, Ms. Richer said.

 

Among the older Ms. Richer’s siblings were Mollie, Bennie, Toby, Jack, and Marvin Silverman. Marvin Silverman ran the Brainerd Army Store, while Jack ran Jack’s Army Store downtown, which is now remembered through the Jack’s Alley area by Panera.

 

Ms. Richer’s mother later married Sol Richer, a Knoxville furrier, and spent her adult years there.

 

Ms. Richer said her family is also related to current Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke through the mayor’s mother, Kandy S. Berke, the daughter of Bennie Silverman.

 

Besides Chattanooga High, another place shown on the map that was connected to her mother was Sand Mountain. Ms. Richer said her mother, who died in 2006 a couple of months short of her 92nd birthday, told her that her father used to take her up to Sand Mountain.

 

He sold some of the Sand Mountain farmers and others eyeglasses, and they often paid him through such items as quilts, butter, molasses and even chickens. One year he paid his membership dues at the synagogue with some chickens, Ms. Richer said.

 

Coming across the map near her mother’s birthday of May 27 and seeing the family connections made it seem special, she added.

 

As a result, she plans not to try and sell it, but simply to keep it at her home in Knoxville as a reminder of her mother and her family.

 

And those appreciative of Mr. Baisden’s style and contributions to art like the reflections it offers of his talents and career, too.

 

Ms. Richer agrees, adding that it is pretty interesting to gaze at.

 

“It’s one of a kind,” she said of the map.

 

Jcshearer2@comcast.net


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