By LANDON WOODROOF
She did not live in Brentwood and many residents may not recognize her name, but Christine Slayden Tibbott’s talent and the generous spirit that guided it, have touched countless members of the local community over the past twenty years.
A longtime artist and educator, Tibbott passed away Friday, June 9 at the age of 96.
If you’ve driven down Franklin Road through Brentwood around Christmas time, you’ve seen her work: the Nativity mural that sat first atop a barn and more recently atop a pavilion at former Dollar General CEO Cal Turner Jr.’s Green Pastures farm.
The mural, depicting farm animals gazing at the Star of Bethlehem, is one of the most iconic sites in Brentwood and has been ever since it was first erected in 1996.
Tibbott was commissioned to create the huge mural by Turner, who was a dear friend of hers. The pair met in the mid 1970’s when Tibbott ventured up to Dollar General’s then-headquarters in Scottsville, Kentucky. She had been hired to create a tapestry depicting Turner’s life.
“I’ll never forget, Chris Tibbott asking me about my life and experiences so they could capture it in a tapestry,” Turner said, laughing warmly. “She immediately said, ‘You’re more complicated than I expected.'” The artwork she created hangs in Turner’s house to this day.
The relationship between Turner and Tibbott persisted after the tapestry commission. Tibbott soon became a close family friend.
“She’s one of the few Nashvillians who knew and befriended both my parents and knew our family,” he said. “She wrote a poem about my father commemorating his 80th birthday. We had a big birthday bash for my dad at Green Pastures, we had sky divers coming out of the air…but I can still visualize Chris Tibbott standing out in the wind, her dress blowing out in the wind, holding the piece of paper on which she had written the poem and reading the poem with great expression. She’d written it herself.”
Tibbott was interviewed by the Home Page in 2012, when she was a spry 92 years old. In the article she noted with some amusement that her “painting on a canvas” was referred to so often as a mural.
She also reflected on various aspects of her life, including her warm relationship with Turner and her many years working designing sets for the television program “Hee Haw.”
Tibbott referred to her own talent modestly in the interview. “I’m not great, I’m good. But I’m a hard worker,” she said.
Turner spoke to the Home Page about Tibbott on Friday, shortly before he was set to speak at her funeral.
“I’m supposed to speak about three minutes and as you can tell talking to me that’s going to be a challenge, confining it to three minutes,” he said.
Indeed, Turner was full of fond stories about his friend.
There was the actual process of painting the Christmas mural for instance, a memorable experience Tibbott spoke of in her Home Page interview.
“She had to do it in a large upstairs room of the West End Methodist Church where the whole canvas could be spread,” Turner said.
The mural was actually supposed to be a one-time deal, Tibbott recalled in her 2012 interview. However, it proved so popular that it was brought back out year after year.
Perhaps the appeal of the artwork has something to do with Tibbott’s personality shining through it. The image is direct, but also warm and welcoming.
It is reminiscent of something Turner said about Tibbott, how she could make friends with people from all different walks of life.
“She got along well with the country music stars, with Nashville society, with the man on the street,” he said. “She had love of family and community, and she has always been an ideal person to create the art that means so much to Brentwood at Christmas.”
Part of her ability to do that was because Tibbott was the real deal. She put up no false fronts.
“What I liked about her is how she seemed to radiate love in a real world sense,” Turner said. “No airs, a great connection with people, and she was a good artist. She was a humble person. You don’t always find that in an artist you know.”
Turner last spoke with Tibbott about six weeks ago. He called her to discuss the mural.
Years of exposure to the elements as well as the strain of putting it up and taking it down so many times has left the mural damaged.
“I called her and said, ‘Chris we have to replace your art,'” Turner recalled. “‘It is your art, Chris, and I want to be sure we do it in a way that suits you.’ And I told her, I said, ‘Do you think we should change it in any way?’ And she said, ‘Well that’s up to you.’ I said, ‘Well I consider it to be your statement to the community,’ and she said, ‘Well that is completely up to you.’ She said do what serves the community.”
In her 2012 interview, Tibbott told the Home Page that she was still making her own Christmas cards, but had given up on larger artworks. Still, Turner thought it only right that she should have an opportunity to have her say about the mural.
Turner is hopeful that the artist he hires will be able to reproduce Tibbott’s work for future generations to enjoy.
“We’ll have a replica up that I hope will look just like the other art and will last as long or longer,” he said.
“I get a warm glow thinking about Chris Tibbott’s art living on,” he said.
Here is a reprint of Tibbott’s obituary as it appeared online, minus information about her services, which were held Friday:
Christine Slayden Tibbott, age 96, passed away on Friday June 9. Born December 1, 1920, she was the 9th child of Lucien and Eve White Slayden. Her family relocated to Nashville from Waverly, TN at the beginning of the depression.
Beginning her education in a one-room schoolhouse, Chris’s love of art and drama blossomed at Tarbox School and later Hume-Fogg High School. Chris earned BS and MS degrees in Art Education from George Peabody College for Teachers. Her first teaching position was in Marietta, GA. After World War II she married James Tibbott, whom she met at a USO dance. They were blessed with three sons.
She taught at Peabody Demonstration School for 15 years. She also taught art classes in her basement studio, and taught Sunday school at West End United Methodist Church for fifty years.
In her 50s Chris became a scenic artist for “Hee Haw” and worked on the “Great Performances” and “Dance in America” programs produced at Opryland. She painted murals in hospitals and homes, as well as the Turner Christmas barn in Brentwood. She served on the board of the Nashville Children’s Theater for 30 years and was involved in Cheekwood Botanical Gardens’ annual Swan Ball and the Trees of Christmas.
She traveled to every continent with friends she loved, and with her husband, designed and built their dream house. Her high school annual described her as “always in a hurry.” She loved children and nurturing their creativity. She never stopped learning and teaching.
In 2003, an outpouring of support resulted in the new University School of Nashville arts building being named in her honor.
Her faith was unshakable, her heart was filled with love and she always found beauty in the world.
Christine is survived by sons Terry Tibbott, Nashville, TN; Michael Tibbott & wife Marji, Carmel, CA; and Randy Tibbott & wife Natasha & granddaughter Waverly, Nashville, TN. She was predeceased by husband James Tibbott, siblings John Walter Slayden, Elizabeth Slayden Carnahan, Robert Lee Slayden, Virginia White Slayden, Leon Wilson Slayden, Paul Jones Slayden, Evelyn Slayden Harden, and Harold David Slayden.