ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT - Dane Carder '90

My path has not necessarily been an easy one. Life is unpredictable. Luckily through all peaks and valleys, storms, and surprises, there is a solid rock upon which we can stand... faith.

In the middle of my high school experience at Franklin Road Academy, my father died suddenly of a heart attack. This traumatic event obliterated all faith and belief within me, and I roamed recklessly through the rest of high school using humor and rebellion as a means of surviving. Since graduating 30 years ago, I have experienced many dark days, and I have basked in the radiance of recovery. My story is as regular and dramatic as the four seasons – life, death, and rebirth. This, I believe, is the essence of the human condition, and I am grateful to have embraced the entire spectrum.

After graduating from FRA, I was a bit of a wanderer, but I landed back in Nashville, where I enrolled at Watkins College of Art to take a graphic design class and Nashville Tech, where I followed my interest in photography – a craft I still use today. I also started painting again as well as writing a lot of bad, sad poetry. This was the beginning of my steady lifelong pursuit of authentic expression through the arts.

I remember the exact moment in the fall of 1994, in the midst of working on a painting, when I realized that I was destined to be a painter…an artist. There was magic happening on the canvas in front of me; beauty was being born out of nothing. And, in retrospect, I now see that it was actually being born out of everything. All of the sadness and all of the joy, the hurt and anger, and the love, it was all available to me as I painted. The numbness of my sadness and depression from my father’s traumatic death was tempered with this practice, so I leaned into it as often as possible – and I still do.

Poetry and painting were always my companions as I navigated through the darkest times. While attending MTSU in the summer 1996, I studied in Italy for six weeks. Witnessing the pinnacle of artistic achievement in the works of Michelangelo and many other Renaissance masters, a grand inspiration buzzed inside of me. In 1999, I left college for the final time, deciding to help my brother build his house, which I eventually painted. This led to me starting a painting business that I operated for 12 years.

In May 2000, several events led to my commitment to healing the deep wounds in order to lead a fuller life. I suffered what I was sure an aneurysm or something similar and was struck down by the worst pain I had ever felt. Early tests from doctors weren’t clear, but after several days of suffering, it was determined that I had contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Physically and emotionally spent, I decided to seek help in therapy. During this time, I reflected on my dad’s struggles, and I didn’t want to follow his difficult path. The apparent option was to live under the influence of a higher power; it was time to surrender. All of the blessings that have come since then are certainly of divine nature.

I rented my first art studio and began to get more serious about pursuing a career as an artist. As I ran my interior painting business, I always allowed for studio time, and I discovered that, if I was away too long from the Muse, grumpiness would find me! It became somewhat of an obsession. Having surrendered my tired, destructive vices, I latched on to a habit that served a greater purpose. My desire was (and is) to create beautiful objects that add something positive and of value to the world. From early on in my quest to be an artist, I feared that my financial security would be elusive. The “starving artist” scenario seemed too common to be a myth, and my dream of being a husband and father seemed unlikely without a steady income. I remained determined to find a way to make both dreams a reality.

For about a year, I shared a studio with a more seasoned painter, who served as a mentor as I stumbled into my art career. His willingness to converse on a diverse range of topics helped fill the void that my departure from college had created.  experience in the art world cannot be taught in school, and I found this hands-on approach to fit my learning style. I began showing work in restaurants, as I didn’t yet feel ready for art galleries. Patience and faith allowed me to progress at a natural pace, and before too long, I found my way to showing paintings at Cumberland Gallery, one of Nashville’s premier galleries.

Meanwhile, between 2003 and 2007, I fell easily in love with a friend of my younger sister, we married, and had two daughters. This experience put all of life into perspective, and it provided another essential education. The greatest life challenges and the most beautiful rewards seemed to both spring like geysers from this new family.

Having a spouse and children, for me, is like going to graduate school on how to be a fully realized, healthy human being. This, I believe, is the purpose of our journey here on Earth. I am so grateful for my teachers, Danielle, Violet, and Tweel, and for the opportunity to learn and grow in a loving environment.

I have had the great fortune of selling enough paintings over the years to keep me consistently invested in pursuing this passion. Though money has never been the goal, nor has it equated to much of a “salary,” I have slowly adapted my mindset to understand what “enough” means. In dissecting depression to understand and heal it, I came face to face with shattered self esteem and insecurity (an epidemic of sorts). Even after success in exhibiting art in galleries and museums, and being featured in publications such as Nashville Arts Magazine and Garden & Gun, I still often felt neglected and rejected. This sort of feeling has been a test for me… am I going to quit, or am I going to persist?

Around 2008, I sought to be of service to the local art scene through exhibiting other artists in my studio/gallery, threesquared. This project offered an alternative space for art shows that was more DIY, and less highbrow contemporary gallery. I found great joy in being of service to artists and the community in creating an environment where art was shared and conversations and relationships blossomed. With the help of a co-curator, I carried on threesquared for about five years.

In 2013, when I had emotionally come to the end of my interior painting career, a simple one line email to a Memphis art gallery owner altered my path for four years. I parlayed my studio/gallery experience into a gallery director job and opened David Lusk Gallery Nashville in the winter of 2014. That experience delivered a cycle of highs and lows, as I soared by sharing so much beautiful art with visitors but sank as I found the commercial aspect of the gallery business disheartening. Nashville has long struggled to be an “art collecting” town, and this reality hit hard as I worked tirelessly over three years to gain traction in sales for the gallery. As grateful as I was to have had the opportunity to be the director of the gallery, I remain more grateful that I was “let go” from that job. I had hit “mid-life” at that time, and I suddenly found myself with a wide open road before me — an open door to intentional reflection and dreaming. Fortunately, this involved digging up some of the deepest roots of my depression, and coming to an understanding that “I am enough,” regardless of all external factors. I no longer needed to prop up my esteem with “success” in the art world or professional and financial realm, and I could finally be at peace with being who I am, as I am.

For about 13 years, much of my artwork has referenced Civil War photographs, as I have sought to communicate the depth and glory of what it means to be human. My story of loss, grief, and recovery related with that of the Civil War — unimaginable tragedy and rehabilitation experienced at a personal and a national level. Carl Rogers said, “What is most personal is most universal.” With my paintings, I am unwrapping the construct of “us vs. them” and seeking to illustrate that there really is no such people as “them.” Like the dynamic of the Civil War, our disagreements and fighting and warring are “brother against brother.” My paintings are meant to be lessons/expressions in love.

Constantly, our choice is either to fight (our ego separating from others) or to love (accepting that we are, in essence, the same). When I began the series, I envisioned a 30-year arc of paintings, where the images began as direct reproductions of the photographs, and slowly deconstructed into complete abstraction. At this point, I feel that I am halfway through this monumental work. Along the way, I have fabricated artistic projects for myself to expand the scope of my output.

In 2011, I set out to take one photographic portrait every day for a year… documenting one random encounter each day with someone who crossed my path. Those can be found at www.us365portraits.blogspot.com. For poetry’s sake, I wrote one poem every day for the year in 2005. In 2019, I wrote one blog post every day, expounding on some bit of minutiae (linked through
my website). I am fascinated and inspired by creative habits such as these, or any such endeavor that works to elevate/expand the life experience. My studio practice is consistent, and I am often working toward an exhibit or producing a thematic series. In the last two years, I have returned to making purely abstract paintings alongside the historic images. I recently had a show at Red Arrow Gallery in Nashville, and in March I was included in an exhibit at Tew Gallery in Atlanta. I work out of Dane Carder Studio in Houston Station, and the studio is open to the public for visits by appointment or drop-in (call first).

Currently, another project I am focused on is Jim’s Spaghetti Sauce. Opened in 1938 by my grandfather, Jim’s Steak & Spaghetti House in Huntington, West Virginia, is a classic American diner with an excellent spaghetti sauce. Just last year, it received a prestigious America’s Classic Award from the James Beard Foundation. My mom (Jimmie), who worked in the FRA cafeteria for nine years, my brother Shawn (’84), and I have teamed up to produce and sell the “small batch” sauce in Nashville. It is sold frozen, direct to consumer, and is a classic Italian Bolognese. I feel tremendous gratitude and joy in being of service in helping families solve the problem, “what’s for dinner?”

Visit www.jimsspaghettisauce.com for more details.

When I am not engaged in art or spaghetti sauce, I can often be found on the soccer sideline, watching my daughters play. My family is certainly the source of my greatest joy. My wife, Danielle, is a pediatric occupational therapist, and she runs Pediatric Therapies in Cool Springs. Her patience, love, compassion, and generosity have helped countless families navigate raising children with special needs.

I’m a nature lover, a regular visitor to Radnor Lake, and if hiking isn’t fast enough, I turn to running. I have completed 12 half marathons, and just last year, at 46, ran a personal best 1:40:08. I remain committed to “recovery,” and that has lent itself to always seeking ways to refine and expand the experience of being human, striving to obtain the most consistent connection with God/love.

Through years of depression, and the various twists and turns of the journey, I kept a faith that knew that all would be well. A couple of my best friends from FRA have been beside me all along. Those relationships operated like life jackets when I barely kept my head above water. Now, we regularly celebrate together as we share life events of all sorts. Coach Tucker’s influence on my life cannot be minimized. As a coach and teacher, not only did he instruct me on the football field and in the art room, but he showed me by example how to be a “good man.” I am blessed to have had his presence in my life. I am grateful for my 13 years at FRA, as I learned the value of friendship, truth, integrity, and faith, tools that will surely sustain anyone through anything.