Twenty years ago, Leiper’s Fork in rural Williamson County was an afterthought for most people — if it was a thought at all.

No one saw it as home to a fine art gallery selling paintings and sculptures created by internationally recognized artists. Certainly not Lisa Fox, a noted artist herself, who lived nearby.

Today, Fox is looking forward to October’s 20th anniversary of Leiper’s Creek Gallery. It is a fine art gallery in the most unlikely of places and in the most unlikely of structures.

It is a business that feels more like a home than a place of commerce, and it elicits comments of “You must be kidding me” when Fox explains that her building was a country filling station and automotive garage before she opened the gallery.

“It is a high compliment when people are so shocked to find a gallery of this caliber out here,” Fox said while enjoying a casual conversation seated on a comfortable couch and surrounded by paintings and sculptures that range from around $500 to $27,000.

Fox interrupted her conversation occasionally to greet visitors who wandered in and to assure them that Abby, the gallery’s resident pit bull/Labrador retriever mix rescue dog and greeter, would welcome a friendly word and a pat on the head.

It was entrepreneur and community leader Aubrey Preston who envisioned an art gallery in the unincorporated village of Leiper’s Fork. He had set the course for the village, but widespread recognition and commercial success were in the future as he sought a use for the one-time filling station.

Fox grew up a farm girl in southern Illinois and studied art at Murray State University in Kentucky. She moved to Nashville in 1994 and for 10 years worked with prominent designers, creating hand-painted furniture and decorative objects while growing in the world of plein-air painting (painting landscape images while outdoors).

A six-month project painting a mural in a Leiper’s Fork home introduced Fox to the quiet pace of the community and to Preston. Preston proposed the art gallery idea to her.

“I’m intuitively business-minded, but not practically. I didn’t know how to do this,” Fox said, modestly describing herself as “just a decorative painter.”

“Aubrey puts a ‘believe-in-yourself spirit’ in people,” Fox said, laughingly adding that she “didn’t make a nickel for 10 years.”

“In the early years, the whole town did a happy dance when I sold even the smallest painting,” she recalled.

Leiper’s Creek Gallery now promotes art from 23 artists, 17 of whom are local. They include four master artists: Robert Dale Brown, Dawn Whitelaw, Anne Blair Brown and Marc Hanson. All 23 are established nationally or internationally. You can find Fox’s works here, too.

The gallery has a genuinely homey feel — albeit a home with 15-foot ceilings and walls covered with a huge amount of art worth bundles of money. The space is furnished with pieces from Robin Rains Interior Design (they are for sale, too), and that adds to the comfortable feeling and gives browsers an idea of how a piece of art might work in an actual home.

“Making this like home was a goal from the start. I love for young parents to bring their children here to have them appreciate art. This can be their (casual) museum,” Fox said.

Although Leiper’s Fork has been discovered (many people know it for the live music and country cooking at Puckett’s of Leiper’s Fork and formerly at Green’s Grocery), it is a bit out of the way. It sits between the Natchez Trace Parkway and Franklin on Old Hillsboro Road (TN 46).

“We’re just a spot on the road very much in the middle of nowhere,” Fox said with a laugh. “(Many) Nashvillians are in a bubble. They need to get out. And getting them here just once is all it takes.”

Leiper’s Creek Gallery can be the centerpiece of a drive to the country. While in Leiper’s Fork, you can do some antique shopping (Serenite Maison and Props Antiques), get a barbecue sandwich (Puckett’s or the Country Boy Restaurant), enjoy a chef-prepared meal (the 1892 Restaurant), recharge with a spa treatment (the Spa at Leiper’s Fork) or find a wine to take home (Wines in the Fork). There are other art galleries, too (the Copper Fox Gallery and the David Arms Gallery).

Getting to Leiper’s Fork is still a bit of an excursion, but the tiny community has come a long, long way since a derelict gas station morphed into an art gallery 20 years ago.

Enjoy Tom Adkinson’s Tennessee Traveler destination articles the second and fourth Friday every month. Adkinson, author of “100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die,” is a Marco Polo member of SATW, the Society of American Travel Writers.

Recommended for you