New exhibit features 150 year old works of family that once lived in art center

Baillett Sisters home South Jackson Street
One of the Tullahoma Art Center’s February exhibits includes works by the Baillet sisters, the original owners of the historic home that now houses the TAC. {Historic Photo Provided}

TULLAHOMA — They were sisters, businesswomen, and artists before their time. In February, the Tullahoma Art Center (TAC) will explore the 150 year old works and historical significance of the Baillet sisters who once resided at the TAC building at 401 South Jackson Street.

In 1868, Jane, Emma, and Affa Ann Baillet moved to Tullahoma with their parents, Felix and Affa, during the aftermath of the Civil War. Originally from Cattaraugus County New York, the sister arrived to Tullahoma as it was transitioning from a strategic supply headquarters for the Army of Tennessee into a Reconstruction town.

It didn’t take the sisters long to catch sail on the winds of change blowing through the South. The creative sisters open a millinery shop – one of the first women-owned businesses in Coffee County – and quickly became prominent members of local society.

The two-story Italianate home located near the railroad tracks still exists as one of the oldest homes in Tullahoma. In 1968, and with major support AEDC Manager Robert M. Williams, the then Tullahoma Fine Arts Center bought and restored the home.

In addition to making wearable art at the millinery, the sisters painted small, original works that were often given as gifts to friends. Many of those paintings have returned and hang on the TAC walls. The sisters also collected art … Tennessee landscapes and genre paintings … dating all the way back to the 1870s – many of which still hang in display at the TAC.

By all accounts, the Baillet sisters were also deeply involved in politics, public reforms, and progressive movement of all types. Among the many causes they championed were the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Equal Suffrage League. None of the sisters ever married and they lived together in the home until their deaths.

Their creative legacy has only expanded. The Center added an addition in 1992 that included a new wing to house gallery space, classrooms, and storage. In 1999, the Center installed a bronze sculpture created by Bell Buckle artist Russell Faxon in front of the building. Just last year, they added an octopus mural on the Carroll Street side of the building painted by Murfreesboro artist Tara Avers.

The show will remain on display in Exhibit Hall B at the Tullahoma Arts Center through February. The exhibit is free to members and $5 for non-members. Visit their website or Facebook page for more details. •

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