Art inspired by music: Meet Helen Prater of Helen's Pop Art

Helen sells year-round at the Market. Find her in Farm Shed 2 during peak season and on Winter Market Saturdays, and inside the Market House on Winter Market Wednesdays.

Helen sells year-round at the Market. Find her in Farm Shed 2 during peak season and on Winter Market Saturdays, and inside the Market House on Winter Market Wednesdays.

In just a few years, Helen Prater has made Helen’s Pop Art a fixture at the Nashville Farmers’ Market. We got her to slow down long enough to answer a few questions about how she got here and what brings her joy …

What brought you to Nashville?
Music and sunshine brought my husband Mark and me to Nashville almost eight years ago. We are originally from Michigan, which is a lovely state. But neither of us has ever been fond of the cold. Moving was a necessary transition for survival! And Mark is a singer/songwriter, so Nashville is definitely where he needs to be. The energy here is fantastic and the opportunities are endless!

What do you most enjoy about retailing at NFM?
I feel very fortunate to be able to retail my original canvas art and functional art (shirts, hats, umbrellas, children's attire, flasks, totes, etc.,) at the Market. What I love most about the market is the community of vendors that sell there as well as the staff that runs it. I have tremendous respect for all the talent and creativity in this place! I also love the visitors from all over the globe that come to the market for their one-stop shopping. There is so much love and support for local and small business and it’s a blast being part of their Nashville experience. I am truly honored when they choose to shop in my store, and when I learn that their purchase is heading to faraway places like London or New Zealand, it takes me to the moon! Nashville's local community is amazingly supportive, too. They appreciate the experience of shopping in such a diverse destination.

In a nutshell, the Nashville Farmers' Market rocks

“What I love most about the market is the community of vendors that sell there as well as the staff that runs it,” says Helen Prater (at right), hanging out with fellow vendors Lily Webb and Ihsan Tunceren at a recent Wednesday Winter Market.

“What I love most about the market is the community of vendors that sell there as well as the staff that runs it,” says Helen Prater (at right), hanging out with fellow vendors Lily Webb and Ihsan Tunceren at a recent Wednesday Winter Market.

What’s your creative process?
I am a self-taught artist and have loved painting and drawing all my life. When I first moved to Tennessee, I worked as a licensed physical therapist assistant. But while on the job I injured my spine and, ironically, found myself in physical therapy. The doctors placed me on lifting restrictions, which prevented me from going back to work. 

To fill the time, I started painting on canvas. Painting became my therapy, and my forgotten passion was revived! My eye gravitated toward vibrant colors and all the guitar shapes that surrounded me at home. I became obsessed with painting what I now call my "abstract" form of various guitars. Many of the triptychs [a series of three paintings] of guitars that I painted were gifts for our musician friends. It was through painting the guitars and through painting the Nashville skyline that my creative process evolved into Helen's Pop Art "style," which is simple and understated. My art mainly reflects Music City and the state of Tennessee. It is now my signature brand. 

Was Nashville’s skyline good subject matter before AT&T’s distinctive “Batman” building?
I love the architecture of all the buildings that make up the skyline and I'm sure it has always had appeal with or without the AT&T building. It's been amazing to see how the skyline has grown over the past several years. That being said, the AT&T building is epic — it brings such a strong presence to the cityscape and I never get tired of looking at it, nor do I ever get bored with painting it.  

What — or who — inspires your work?
The inspiration for my art is from my musician husband as well as the great city of Nashville. Let's face it: music inspires! There is a tremendous amount of creative energy here. Its pulse is strong and the momentum is great. 

What does success look like for a new design?
To be honest, I don't paint for success. I paint because I enjoy the subject matter. When people respond well to the art, I consider that a success and that brings me joy. 

Are your customers more locals or tourists?
When I sell at the market, I find I am selling to mostly visitors from out of town, however, the special events/festivals both at the market and around town draw many locals, so it's a fun mix of both.

Besides the Market, what’s your favorite Nashville spot to take visitors?
I am married to a singer/songwriter. Many people who visit Nashville are unfamiliar with what a songwriter does and have never experienced a “songwriter's round.” The Listening Room is one of Mark's and my favorite places to go for rounds. Of course there are many other places in and around Nashville that hold rounds, and being that songwriting is such an integral part of the Nashville scene, visitors should not go home without first enjoying an evening with these talented musicians.

What’s in store for 2019?
Our immediate plans are to unveil our NEW art on shirts, hats, children's clothing and bags. In addition, we are gearing up for retail at the Nashville Farmers' Market peak season as well as several popular shows and events. We will soon be setting up shop at the Lawn and Garden show at the Fairgrounds, and in March, we will be retailing at the Southern Women's Show 2019 at the Music City Center, just to name a few.

I hope to see everybody at the market soon. Thanks for supporting small and local businesses!

David Gonnerman