Creativity Boxed In
By: Ellie Hart
On the corner of Ashwood Avenue and Belmont Boulevard a plain, black trailer sits next to the curb.
Think U-Haul, a single tire on each side, two double doors that open out the back.
It’s the type of trailer you might expect to hold off-brand UPS boxes full of old clothes or a brown bookshelf with three missing screws, salvaged in hopes someone could fix it, though no one ever will.
A few times a month, the trailer transforms into The Box.
The back opens up to reveal black and white tile floors, overhead lighting and owner and operator Sami Wideberg’s surrealist collages lining the walls.
The Box serves a simple purpose—a space free from the restrictions and costs of regular galleries, designed to fit Wideberg’s own artwork.
“I really liked the idea of having a gallery I could control, a space I could decorate myself and a way I could showcase my art without having to rely on anyone else,” says Wideberg.
Finances played a huge role in the creation of The Box —the cost of showcasing your work as a young artist piles up. True gallery space costs hundreds of dollars a night, as well as a potential heavy commission.
Despite her hopeful long-term payoff, the initial investment weighs heavy on the recent college graduate.
“It’s definitely the biggest investment I’ve made,” she says.
The trailer itself cost $2700 from Craigslist, and required pickup in Vermont. She and her father then drove the beginnings of The Box to Nashville from their home in Boston, where she added the signature black and white tile floors as well as the overhead lighting.
One of Wideberg’s biggest motivations for creating The Box stemmed from the need for a personalized space. Wideberg’s work consists mostly of surrealist collages made with Adobe programs like InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator, printed onto paper.
She rediscovered her love for photo editing in a digital imaging class at Belmont University.
“I’m so grateful I got to take that class,” she says. “As soon as I got to know those programs it took a huge weight off of my shoulders. It feels like I can breathe.”
Most of her art uses images of vintage figures integrated into wider landscapes. Her creations range from a snow-covered mountain and forest topped with candy canes to an old-fashioned swimmer jumping head first into a sepia Nashville flyover shot.
Wideberg’s recent collages fit the dialogue and political issues in our country— particularly women’s rights. Her work borrows vintage images, taking pictures and illustrations of women from the ‘50s and ‘60s and combining them with landscapes.
The use of these photos of women holds meaning—a reminder of how recently women gained equal rights, and the progress achieved in just 50 years.
“I feel like we learn history so we don’t make the same mistakes over—and right now I see a lot of these same mistakes being repeated,” said Wideberg.
“It’s incredibly disheartening because we’re in 2017 and we should know better. Especially being a woman who identifies as a feminist and part of the LGBT community. It’s personal for me.”
Most recently, Wideberg sold a few pieces at the Nasty Woman Nashville Exhibition across town at The Basement East, where a portion of the profits benefited the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.
A recent piece features an atomic era all-female moped gang. Four women in the foreground pose with their rides. The background features feminists of yesterday—a lady wearing boxing gloves, a Rosie-the-Riveter-type wielding a gun, a young girl who simply looks unsatisfied with her opportunities in life. The piece sold in 30 minutes.
“I turned around and it was gone,” she says. “I was amazed. People were actually there to support art and local artists.”
Every month the East Side Art Stumble showcases the work of local artists and small businesses. In the past months, The Box has become a staple, and sits on the official list of galleries.
From 7-10 p.m. on the second Saturday of every month, a variety of galleries open their doors to showcase Nashville talent. Once a month, The Box parks on Gallatin Ave. outside of The Red Arrow Gallery.
So far, The Box has hosted two other artists- YUP Thread Shed, a clothing company, and Ronnie Selby, a synesthetic painter and close friend. Selby sings in a band Wideberg regularly shoots and travels with, Laurel and the Love-In. Selby’s unique ability to see the music she hears as shapes and colors only recently transitioned into artwork. She didn’t pick up a paintbrush before June of last year.
“I tell people it’s a representation,” says Selby. “As my technique gets better, it becomes more and more accurate.”
“She’s an artistic Swiss army knife,” says John Lattimer, a member of the band and current senior entertainment industry studies major at Belmont. “She’s a great asset to have. She certainly makes us look good.”
She later joined them on the road as a photographer and began to create other promotional material for the band, along with maintaining The Box. Lattimer’s pride in how far she’s come and her persistence in creating opportunities for herself shines through.
“It’s very easy for us all to say ‘Oh, one day I’ll have a place to show my artwork. One day I’ll buy a trailer. One day I’ll decorate it,’” he says. “It’s easy to put things off at this time in our lives, so it’s really cool seeing her take control.”
In a city overrun with artists, Lattimer says, it’s refreshing to see someone take that next step and really pursue what they want.
At this point, Wideberg spends most of her time creating art and uses her freelance sales as financial support. The months after graduation are hard—transitioning out of college and into the adult world. Sometimes, it feels like she can’t find a purpose— right now, she just does whatever she can to make $50 a day, whether it be making and selling art or driving for Lyft. As for the future?
“I just want to tour and make art and take photos. And I know it’s going to happen—we’re in Nashville—it’s just a matter of time.”