Story and Photos By Kendyl Hollingsworth
If you picked up a copy of last year’s LIVE Lee summer issue, you may remember that I’m a born-and-raised Huntsvillian. In that issue, I recalled my Space Camp experience and shared some of the city’s rich history in the aerospace industry — hence its nickname, “the Rocket City.”
And while I’m fascinated by the STEM side of Huntsville, there’s another side of it that, dare I say, is even nearer and dearer to my heart: its artistic side.
Huntsville’s best-kept secret is coming to light more and more these days. The city’s artsy streak isn’t necessarily new, but with the rapid growth of the area, its arts scene is exploding.
From gigantic downtown murals, to the renovated Lowe Mill art center, to the Huntsville Museum of Art, there’s bound to be a little something for everyone.
For these reasons — and the food, of course — you can expect me to head downtown at least once every time I’m in the area.
I’ve made many memories there throughout my life, some of which I can recall from as far back as when I was 5 years old. I used to draw with my dad when I was little, and while he’s pretty modest about it, the truth is that he’s more talented than he lets on. I can thank him for nurturing my interest in art, and when I started school, my horizons started to expand beyond paper and pencils.
Thus, my parents signed me up for an art camp one summer at the Huntsville Museum of Art. The theme: Ancient Greece. I learned all about the kinds of art and architecture for which that period is known — everything from columns to clay pots — and we even got to make our own mixed media masterpieces.
Just a few steps away, right in the museum’s backyard, is Big Spring Park. If you’ve walked or driven down Spring Street on the outskirts, you might have noticed the now-iconic koi fish mural along the wall of the parking garage.
Created in 2016, the mural pays homage to the colorful fish swimming along the streams and ponds throughout the park, and I admit it — sometimes I like to imagine the “personalities” of the painted fish based on their faces. Bonus: If you look at it from just the right angle, it looks 3D.
Over on Clinton Street, if you peek down a side alley, you’ll find the Clinton Row Colorwalk. It’s truly a hidden gem — one I discovered with my boyfriend on one of our first dates back in 2019 (We still poke our heads in anytime we walk by.). The tiny, urban gallery features the colorful works of a few local artists.
On the left you’ll find a large painting of cats — my cat-lover boyfriend’s favorite — as well as a caricature of Mick Jagger and a portrait of a certain famous female astronaut.
And watch your step — don’t fall into the huge “crack” in the pavement.
Downtown is full of murals, with new ones popping up frequently. But if you want to find that and more, I suggest heading to Lowe Mill.
The ever-growing hub for local artists and makers is housed in an old mill that was given new life a few years ago, and I swear by it as one of my favorite places in town.
There are international cuisines and artisan teas and impeccable confections. There are painters and jewelry makers and photographers. There’s a plant shop on the second level.
There’s even an elevator operator to help you get there. If you like Dungeons & Dragons, visit the first floor to find a shop where you can paint your own figurine.
One of my favorite spots, however, is that of painter Julie Crews. You’ll often find her painting away by the windows in the back of her second-floor studio. A few drawings by her 6-year-old daughter also grace the walls. My boyfriend and I have gotten to know Julie a bit on our visits, and not only does she create beautiful, impressionist masterpieces, but she’s also such a kind and funny person with a passion for what she does.
That’s another part of the magic of Lowe Mill — the opportunity to break down that barrier between artist and consumer and get to know the real people behind the product. It creates a special sense of community that I adore.
And if you’re an audiophile like me, no visit to Lowe Mill is complete without a stop in Vertical House Records. I’ve been an avid vinyl collector for about 10 years now — also inspired by my dad — and Vertical House was my first real experience with an indie record store.
I always discover something new in there, and as I have delved deeper into this hobby of mine, it has been fun to watch them grow and expand over the years as well. I’m already counting down the days until Record Store Day in April!
My boyfriend and I also frequent Maxwell’s Music on Clinton Row downtown.
Jarrod, the owner, is always down to chat and give you some genuine recommendations for music and equipment. We’ve picked his brain and walked away with some true gems on more than one occasion.
His is also the only record store where I was able to track down a nice, used copy of a Graham Nash album for my dad after we saw him perform at Mars Music Hall. I could go on about Huntsville’s growing live music scene as well but that’s a topic for another day.
Admittedly, I used to take my hometown for granted. I think we all can be guilty of this at some point or another. I hope you’ll take a moment to ponder some of your own treasured memories in your hometown — whether that’s here in Lee County or elsewhere — and be open to getting to know it a little better. You might be surprised at what you’ll find!