Laurie Tatham’s
Acorn Cottage Gallery

by Rachel Perry

Every shop has a name in Carmel, California. Laurie Tatham, who owned one of them, moved to Nashville from the west coast in 1993. When she opened her distinctive gallery on the corner of West Franklin and South Jefferson Streets over a year ago, she and her mother agreed that Acorn Cottage was the perfect name.

Her late mother printed the following information on a card for distribution: “For centuries the Acorn has figured prominently in folklore and literature as a symbol of Hope, Good Luck and the Miracle of Rebirth. The gathering of Acorns for future planting in Sacred Groves of Oaks was a solemn religious rite of the Druids, for whom the Acorn represented wealth and immortality. According to Celtic Legend, a doorway decorated with oak branches and Acorns promised protection to all who dwelled within.”

The wide front porch, featuring carved “ginger bread” accents, welcomes visitors to the two-story Banner Brummet house. Built in 1835, it was one of the earliest residences in Nashville. Remodeling will make the space on the second floor available for overnight guests.

The five rooms on the ground floor are filled to the brim with constantly rearranged merchandise. “I can’t stand going into a shop and seeing things exactly the same each time I go in,” Mrs. Tatham maintains. New-age background music enhances a relaxed ambiance for visitors to peruse a variety of items. Handmade Indiana artists’ work includes designer tiles, baskets, sun catchers, pottery, original paintings, weavings, metal sculpture, hand-forged ironwork, wood crafting, handmade paper, jewelry, pressed-flower note cards, a few pieces of furniture, hand-blown paperweights, Italian design platters and bowls, unusual bird houses and wind chimes, among other things.

Mrs. Tatham has devoted much time and effort to avoid selling mass-produced products. “There need to be more shops featuring the local Indiana or even regional artists. That’s why people come here,” she asserts.

Laurie Tatham wanted definite standards for her gallery’s merchandise, but getting the word out to artists and craftspeople took some time. “Pryde Baliss (a local professional potter) has been a strong influence in the shop,” Mrs. Tatham said. “I met Pryde when I took a pottery class from her and we developed a friendship. She was constantly asking me, ‘Puff (her name for me), when are you going to open that shop?’ I went to the Chicago gift show and it was all the same junk. I wasn’t impressed with the Philadelphia show either. I just couldn’t find anything that was truly unique. Everything was so commercialized!”

“So Pryde said, ‘I’ve got some artist friends. Let me get them together.’ She was kind of a mediator. She gave me phone numbers and talked to them. They didn’t know me from Adam but they knew her and trusted her…At first I had to beg artists to use my shop (for consignment sales). Now they seek me out.”

Despite the similar emphasis on handmade items, Mrs. Tatham does not feel that the Acorn Cottage Gallery competes with the local artist-run Brown County Craft Gallery. “What you find in this town is that shoppers either go to the north end or the south end (either end of the mid-village traffic signal),” she said. “I’ve worked both sides of town. Shoppers go as far as the Hobnob Corner and then turn around and go back south. I think it’s the most quaint and picturesque section of town…If you’re a day shopper, you really only have time to hit one end or the other.”

Mrs. Tatham’s unambiguous ideas about retail merchandising and tourism have developed through years of experience. After running the store in Carmel-By-The-Sea, she was offered a job in Disney World. “My husband and I, with four children, had a brand new home built in Orlando. On the way there with our U-Haul, we stopped here (Nashville) to visit my sister. (Laurie Tatham’s sister, brother-in-law, and parents all had migrated to Brown County in the early 1990s.) When we stopped to visit, I said, ‘Oh, it’s the Midwest Carmel!’ I’m always happiest in artist communities.”

When Laurie considered changing her career plans, her family demonstrated admirable flexibility. Mr. Tatham, who sells insurance, relocated fairly easily. So the family never made it to Florida. “The only condition I had for settling here was that I wanted to live downtown. I did not want to live in the woods,” she laughed.

“I kind of feel like the shopkeepers in Carmel who had the attitude, ‘If you can’t walk there, it’s too far to go.’ I feel like, ‘If I have to go past the signal (intersection of State Road 46 and State Road 135), then it’s too darn far.’ I rarely have to go through that signal unless it’s to go to the grocery store or something. In Carmel I didn’t even own a car!” she exclaimed.

With both home and business now firmly ensconced in Nashville, Laurie Tatham is dedicated to making her unique gallery the best that it can be. Open daily from 10:30 to 5:00pm, the Acorn Cottage Gallery can be reached by calling 812-988-4080.