Neighbors look to restore dragon in Fannie Mae Dees Park


The beloved mosaic dragon in the Hillsboro-West End neighborhood has survived decades of play, but neighbors say it needs to be rescued from further deterioration.

The brightly tiled, concrete sculpture remains safe for children to climb on, but weather and time have caused cracks to form in the face and arches of the undulating focal point of Fannie Mae Dees Park, said Jan Bushing of Hillsboro-West End Neighbors. She heads the neighborhood association’s committee working to save it.

“We are trying to address it before we lose an incredible piece of community art,” Bushing said.

The sculpture is owned by Metro Parks and Recreation, but competes with all of the other maintenance needs in the city’s park system for limited funds, said Assistant Director Tim Netsch, of Metro Parks’ planning and facilities development division. The neighborhood association is working with Metro Parks and is expected to eventually approach the Metro parks board with a request to raise money for restoration, he said.

The neighborhood association is in the process of determining what work needs to be done on the sculpture and how much that will cost, Bushing said. The association intends to raise money to help pay for the project, and if all goes well, work could start in the summer, she said.

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Artist Pedro Silva created the sculpture in the early 1980s with the help of the community. It was restored in the 1990s. The dragon is actually called “Sea Serpent,” but that name didn’t catch on, and Fannie Mae Dees Park at 2400 Blakemore Ave. is often referred to as Dragon Park, said Anne Roos, who served on the Metro parks board at the time.

Roos said she and her husband brought Silva to town. She hoped a community art project would unite the neighborhood torn by a failed redevelopment project that eventually turned into the park.

She knocked on the doors of Nashville tile companies, asking for leftover tile and sample pieces for the sculpture. The more colorful the better. The ceramic pieces were assembled by schoolchildren, neighbors and residents from across the city into the mosaic designs that can be found on the sculpture today.

“It really became a true community effort, which was nice,” Roos said.

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Aidan Hoyal was about 10 years old when she created the dark blue mosaic mailbox with a yellow flag for the dragon. Hoyal, who is active in the neighborhood association, wasn’t sure what inspired the mailbox, but she said her 9-year-old son enjoys pointing it out whenever they visit the park. She hopes they can both be a part of the future restoration.

The sculpture was completed in 1981. It became a symbol for the neighborhood and inspired other dragons, including another that’s scheduled for a face-lift, said Phil Ryan, a Hillsboro-West End Neighbors board member.

The 20-year-old dragon mural that greets moviegoers as they step out of the Belcourt Theatre will receive a fresh coat of paint in the coming days or weeks. Ryan said he recently noticed the creature had lost some of its vibrancy, which led to about two dozen businesses and organizations pitching in the roughly $7,000 needed to restore it.

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“It was looking a little faded and bedraggled, not the same fire and energy and passion of our dragon of old,” Ryan said. “It’s just a neighborhood helping out an old friend.”

Artists David Glick and Adam Randolph painted the whimsical landmark inspired by the park sculpture in 1995. Students and neighbors like Ryan helped out on the original project, which stretches along the side of the Vanderbilt University-owned building at 1801 21st Ave.

If weather permits, the dragon will be refreshed Saturday under the guidance of muralist Andee Rudloff. Residents are encouraged to participate. A make-up date will be picked if weather foils the plans.

Reach Holly Meyer at 615-259-8241 and on Twitter @HollyAMeyer.

Dragons of Hillsboro-West End

Sculpture: Artist Pedro Silva completed the public art project, actually titled “Sea Serpent,” in 1981. The sculpture quickly became known as the dragon and gave Fannie Mae Dees Park the nickname Dragon Park. The sculpture was restored in the late 1990s and is owned by Metro Parks. 

Mural: In 1995, artists David Glick and Adam Randolph painted a dragon mural — inspired by the park sculpture — on the side of the building at 1801 21st Ave.

Mascot: A dragon is the mascot of Harris-Hillman School, which serves students with disabilities and is near Fannie Mae Dees Park. The dragon inspired the school’s mascot choice, said Principal Robbie Hampton. The sculpture’s artist held a workshop at the school, and faculty and students helped create some of the dragon’s mosaic designs, she said.

Parade: The annual dragon parade in May launches a free summer concert series known as Dragon Music Sundays in Fannie Mae Dees Park, said Phil Ryan, of Hillsboro-West End Neighbors.


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