JAMES AGEE’S Pulitzer winner, A Death in the Family, gave us a vision of Knoxville, Tennessee, born of images like “evening, when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently.”
The city’s warm, downhome reputation is still earned, but these days, energy and individuality also draw visitors. When Etsy named Knoxville its first Maker City, it began to embrace its new distinction. Take The Tennessean (thetennesseanhotel.com), a buzzy hotel with a massive lobby that doubles as Maker Exchange (makerexchangeknox.com), a shoppable public gallery of jewelry, sculptures, paintings, ceramics, and more by local creatives. Even the hotel’s coffee mugs and many of the furnishings, including the shuffleboard table in the game room, have been handcrafted locally.
Landmarks to literary luminaries with connections to Knoxville pepper the neighborhoods. You might stumble upon a plaque with a quote from Cormac McCarthy, a statue of Alex Haley, a historical marker commemorating Nikki Giovanni’s essay “400 Mulvaney Street,” an elegy to her grandparents’ home, or James Agee Park, to name a few.
Matthew Cummings embodies Knoxville’s creative spirit. A few years ago, the accomplished glass artist made a special glass for craft beer at the request of a buddy. Before he could say “juicy IPA,” orders were pouring in. He soon wanted to have a hand in what went into his glasses. Now, Cummings’s Pretentious Glassblowing Studio (pretentiousglassco.com) and Pretentious Brewpub (pretentiousbeerco.com) sit in neighboring storefronts connected by a beer garden. “We take our work seriously, but not ourselves,” says the brewer of such beverages as Chug Life, Sveldt (a tongue-in-cheek nod to a coworker’s dad bod), and Big Kitty Energy. Cummings is proud to have been a pioneer in a movement that now helps define his city. Although, he laughs, “I’m still trying to get people excited about lagers.”