The Beautiful Mind of Bryce McCloud

The Beautiful Mind of Bryce McCloud

If you read Broad Varieties somewhat regularly, you’ve probably heard us mention Bryce McCloud before. He’s the mastermind behind Isle of Printing, a local shop that cranks out everything from letterpress to t-shirts. He and his team are the folks who dream up, plan, and manually create the can wall at Pinewood every month. You might even catch them in the act – watching them deconstruct, sort, and put 2,000 cans right back up is a tedious but mesmerizing process to watch. For me, that act is a physical representation of just a small portion of the way Bryce’s mind works. After all, that mind is responsible for some pretty amazing art, such as the origami wall at Barista Parlor and the Pie Town murals on Ewing and Middleton Street. One of his largest projects to date is the work at the Noelle hotel, which was recently mentioned in The New York Times.

 I first met Bryce in early 2011. My now-husband and I had just gotten engaged and were in need of save the dates for our September wedding. Benjamin told me I HAD to meet Bryce and that he could probably do something cool for us. So we traipsed over to Bryce’s office, which, was in the same area it is now, but was a much smaller, shared space. At the time, Bryce seemed to focus mostly on letterpress, a trade that he toldDozen me he got into thanks to his uncle, whom he inherited about half of his equipment from and through learning to work the machines, he learned about letterpress. He also worked at Hatch Show Print for about three years in the late 90’s, where he met Kenneth Hinson, who became a mentor to him as well. Sure enough, after some back and forth conversation, and maybe a few emails here or there, the hubs and I ended up with original, letterpress, accordion-style save the dates. Each fold was perforated and popped out to a coaster with an ode to each of our heritages – Salute! La’Chaim! Cheers! Our names and upcoming wedding date were on the last panel. They were unique, personal, functional, and super cool.

 Another thing that came out of that initial meeting was the start of my fascination with Bryce. Bryce feels physically big, but he’s so soft-spoken and sweet that the juxtaposition itself is truly curious. He’s highly creative, but still very grounded and realistic. (I’ve found, in my experience, that those traits don’t always accompany each other in an individual.) Bryce has a long-term girlfriend and a dog that he loves very much, though I do imagine it’s not always easy to be either of them. It’s no secret that creative people can, at times, be difficult to pin down or keep on task. Their minds are so busy and full of ideas and dreams and cool things, and not focused on the business at hand. I’m not totally sure if Bryce is like this but I suspect he might be, and as someone who doesn’t have to wonder if he is coming home for dinner, I love this about him.

Over the past 7 years, I have connected with Bryce off and on over one thing or another, and I swear I leave every encounter with him feeling more positive about mankind than I did before. Bryce has this innate desire to spread positivity and his tool is his art.

 Let me stop right there - when I say spread positivity, I don’t mean that he wants to use glitter and rainbows and smiley faces to convey happiness. Bryce wants to use public art to make people think, and that perspective is right up my alley. I love digging into the psychology of a person and what makes them tick, and Bryce uses art as a way to send subtle – or sometimes not-so-subtle - messages to battle social injustices.

My most recent hang-sesh with Bryce took place at Dozen Bakery. I consumed too much coffee while we chatted about his neighborhood, Wedgewood-Houston, which is where my family lived while we remodeled our home in Belmont-Hillsboro. Bryce has lived there for 14 years, long before it was a Nashville hot spot full of luxury cars and cool condos. He’s one of the last men standing on his street, a few small cottages dabbled among the towering “tall skinnies.”

“My neighbors just pull right into their garage and never even come out front. I’m not sure if they don’t go outside or they only go out back but they are never out, which is a shame because I would love to get to know them,” he tells me. “I think having good neighbors and knowing the people that live around you can be such a cool thing.” Bryce and I talk about things like the changing city, the alarming state of our country, and how getting away to hit the reset button can be the most beneficial act of self-care imaginable.

We talked about the “All Welcome Project” that Isle of Printing did a while back. I wish it had gotten more coverage, more buzz, but Bryce admits promotion is not really Isle of Printing’s strong suit. They get an idea and they make it happen – and they hope you hear about it.

 The poster made for The All Welcome project.

The poster made for The All Welcome project.

The “All Welcome Project” came to be when one of his friends traveled to Central and South America and asked Bryce to make him a shirt that said Gringo! In Spanish. His friend found the t-shirt to be a big hit on the trip and felt it prompted people to speak to him -- people who probably wouldn’t have otherwise. The more we talk to others we don’t know, the less intimidating they become. No matter their religion or ethnicity, their homeland or their even native tongue, we’re all people and ultimately, we all have a lot more in common than we realize.

 With that sentiment in mind, Bryce decided to test his experiment further. He arranged “All Welcome Project” with his friend Andrew Aerhart (of Gringo! shirt fame), which included representatives of different refugee countries who have found homes in Nashville. He had each of these folks sit at a long table at the Downtown Public Library, and then issued an open invitation for others to come sit and talk with them about the idea of welcome in their culture and here in Nashville.

“What will I say? What will we have in common? Well, come sit down and see,” said Bryce. “And then while they were talking, we made a t-shirt [for the non-refugee Nashvillian] that said hello in the native language of the refugee person they were speaking with. Even to do something as simple as wear a shirt with the word hello in a different language sends a message of inclusion and can really make someone feel welcomed just from a glance.”

 Bryce also created Risograph posters for the “All Welcome Project” that includes the word hello in all seven of the refugees’ native languages. When I went to his shop – which I would also call a wild and weird land of artistic wizardry – he was kind enough to give me one, which is currently framed and is part of the extremely labored over gallery wall in my living room.

This is just one example of the kinds of ways Bryce uses art to shift public perception, to make people think, to make them step out of their own world and their own mind in hopes that they can see the bigger picture. Pinewood’s can wall is just another example; every wall usually has a deeper message to it, one designed to make you pause and think.

 You may also remember “Our Town”, a public art initiative Bryce and his team put into motion – literally – with an art cart equipped with all the materials one might need to create a self-portrait. Bryce and his team took the cart all over town and challenged Nashvillians to create themselves, and then add their picture to the stack and take the self-portrait of a stranger instead. This project shows how Nashvillians come in all shapes and sizes, and having a stranger’s self-portrait print endears you to someone you’ve never even met.

 This is a the self-portrait I have from the “Our Town” project, done by a 9-year-old girl. I have it hanging in my house and love how beautiful and serene she looks.

This is a the self-portrait I have from the “Our Town” project, done by a 9-year-old girl. I have it hanging in my house and love how beautiful and serene she looks.

 It’s magnificent, that brain of his. Bryce is so passionate about uniting a changing city, his city, and constantly driving home the message we should all be proclaiming: Nashville has open arms, no matter your age, ethnicity, sexual preference, religion. We are all better and stronger together, striving towards the same goals and dreams. Bryce turns these ideas into thought-provoking, tangible, touching art. He is the exact kind of person who makes Nashville the dynamic, vibrant, forward-thinking city the natives have created and the newbies have flocked towards, and I am so thankful to know him.

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