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Baillet Housesummer

baillet5Born out of a need to preserve the past, the Tullahoma Arts Center now brings quality art experiences to the region, while also protecting and nurturing the legacy of the three Baillet sisters.

During the aftermath of the Civil War, Jennie, Emma and Affa accompanied their parents on a journey from Cattaraugus County, New York, to their new home in Tullahoma.

When the sisters arrived in 1868, Tullahoma was a small southern town in the midst of Reconstruction. Founded in 1852 on the Nashville-Chattanooga Railroad, it had been a strategic location during the war and served as the headquarters and main supply depot for the Army of Tennessee in 1863. It was later occupied by Northern forces and placed under military law.

The Baillet sisters quickly adapted to their new surroundings became prominent members of the community and opened a millinery shop, one of the first businesses in town owned by women. Accomplished artists, the sisters also assisted the family in creating a striking Italianate home with many unique interior design features.

Located near the railroad at 401 South Jackson Street, the two-story brick house is one of the oldest structures in Tullahoma.

Art played a vital role in the Baillet sisters’ lives, being one of the few acceptable activities for women in the nineteenth century. Their original art works were often given to friends as gifts. Many of these paintings have returned to the home and are part of TAC’s permanent collection.

In addition to art, according to contemporary newspaper accounts, the sisters were deeply involved in “political affairs, public reforms and progressive movements of all kinds.” And they were well respected for their “many deeds of charity.” Among the many causes championed by the Baillets were those of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Equal Suffrage League.

Never marrying, the sisters lived together in the Baillet home until the last sister’s death in 1934.

In 1968, the centennial of the Baillets’ arrival in Tullahoma, a dedicated group of art lovers united to save the home from certain destruction and restored the historic building as a center for the arts. A new wing, the Regional Museum of Art, was added in 1992, bringing a modern art gallery to the center and expanding TAC’s classroom, office and storage space.

A bronze sculpture was permanently installed on the TAC lawn in 1999. Entitled, Summer Song, it was created by Bell Buckle artist Russell Faxon. The statue was financed with a grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission and with public donations.

TAC continues the Baillet sisters’ dream today by offering a wide variety of programs and special events that stress both diversity and excellence. Shows featured at the Center include exhibits by local artists and traveling exhibitions like that of the American Watercolor Society. Coming in May 2018, TAC will sponsor the Tullahoma Arts and Crafts Festival.