The Writing on the Wall (or Ceiling)

After months of drawing, sketching, resizing, and revising, patterns of vines and flowers are finally going up on the atmospheric ceiling mural in the Central Parlor at Belmont Mansion.

From this 19th century photograph it is easy to see the pattern on the ceiling, but it is too small and grainy for us to get very specific details from it. Taking the basic overall design from this photo, local artist Phil Carroll, from the company Flying Colors, created a pattern using many of the flowers Adelicia grew here at Belmont including bleeding hearts, fuchsias, morning glories, and Cherokee roses intermixed with grape and ivy leaves.

In this photo, Phil is completing the painstaking process of transferring his design onto the ceiling. Rather than sketch it out by hand (which he has already done on paper), he is taping his drawings to the ceiling with a piece of transfer paper between the plaster and the drawing. Transfer, or carbon paper will leave a mark on the surface beneath it when pressure is applied to it. So, as Phil traces the lines in his drawings, an outline appears on the ceiling underneath, which will then be used to paint the pattern. He is also using a red pencil to trace with, that way he can see which parts of the design he has already completed.

According to our curator, Jerry Trescott, this painting style including flowers, vines, and open sky is called a trompe l’oeil, or optical illusion. The idea was to make visitors feel as if they were in an open courtyard (reminiscent of ancient Roman palazzos) instead of an indoor parlor.

Phil started the stenciling process a couple weeks ago. Since then he has painted purple shadows around the vines and now some green is going up on the leaves as well.

Stay tuned. We can't wait to see the colorful flowers added in the mix. Meanwhile we hope Phil doesn’t get too much of a kink in his neck.

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Belmont Blvd & Acklen Avenue 

Nashville, TN 37212


1900 Belmont Blvd

Nashville, TN 37212


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The architecture of Belmont Mansion makes it one of the most significant homes of 19th century Tennessee.

Sold by the Acklen family in 1887, the house went to a developer who began one of Nashville’s early suburbs.

It was then purchased by two women who in 1890 started a college which evolved into Belmont University. Today the Belmont Mansion Association, which was formed in 1972, owns the collection, runs the museum, and shares this unique story of 19th century Nashville with visitors from far and near.

Photos by Ed Houk