North Nashville business owner Nate Harris dies leaving legacy of advocacy, love of art

  • Nathaniel Harris poured his hard work and savings into his Jefferson Street business, which has thrived for 35 years and counting.
  • His framing business and gallery was honored with a historic market in 2023.
  • Harris died this week. He is remembered for his love of art, entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to his community.

When he opened his business, people laughed.

Now, more than 35 years later, Nate Harris’ creation is a Jefferson Street fixture. Woodcuts Gallery and Framing offers custom framing services for customers, while fulfilling commercial orders for Meharry Medical College, Vanderbilt University and other organizations and showcasing the work of Nashville artists.

The North Nashville gallery, though, will have to continue without its original owner, who poured everything he had into the business. Harris died this week.

“I will miss him as a boss, and as a friend,” said longtime employee Jean Corder, who was at the shop Tuesday. Corder has worked at Woodcuts since the year after it opened in 1987.

Nathaniel Harris, owner of Woodcuts Gallery and Framing, adjusts a piece by artist Ludie Amos in a file photo from Thursday, Aug. 18, 2026. Harris died in February 2024, more than 35 years after he first opened his Jefferson Street business.

While Woodcuts Gallery & Framing enjoys a solid reputation in the community, and was operating as normal in the immediate aftermath of Harris’s death, the fate of small businesses is not always clear. In fact, many successful businesses often face the looming question: What to do when the visionary retires or dies?

In 2023, The Donut Palace, a beloved, family-owned business in Hermitage, suffered a tragic loss when its owner, Yeu Thach, died in a water accident at Percy Priest Lake. The business has since reopened.

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Back in 2012, Jay Luther, the co-owner of Nashville’s Germantown Cafe and Germantown Cafe East, died in a tragic accident at one of the locations. About five years later, co-owner Chris Lowry turned the business over to chef-partner Jess Martin, who started in the kitchen as a line cook working under him. The location on 1200 5th Ave. North remains open, although it’s now owned by Sean Lyons.

Then there’s Varallo’s Restaurant, originally opened in 1907 by Frank Varallo Sr., who immigrated to the United States from Italy. His chili parlor enjoyed decades of success, allowing it to be owned by different family members before it was purchased in 2019 by Bob Peabody. It continues today.

Harris shared his counterparts’ passion for their craft, as well as a determination that allowed him to succeed.

Back in 1987, Harris spent months remodeling the building at 1613 Jefferson St.

The hard work paid off.

‘Everything that I have in the world tied up in this building and business’

Corder said people were initally skeptical of Woodcuts’ viability, adding that its longevity is a testament to its former owner’s creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and determination.

Harris, she said, always had faith in his business. And he put the work in to make it happen, even when that meant taking risks.

Woodcuts owner Nathaniel Harris stands in front of his shop at 17th Avenue North and Jefferson Street on Oct. 7, 1993. Harris is the chairman of the revitalization committee for the North Nashville area.

“I’ve got everything that I have in the world tied up in this building and business,” Harris told The Tennessean years ago while engrossed in the remodeling of the building.

Business owner’s legacy in Nashville

Harris was raised in North Nashville, attended Pearl High School and graduated from Tennessee State University with a degree in engineering.

Over the years, he spoke out about the longstanding, negative impacts of Interstate 40 on businesses and homeowners along Jefferson Street, as well as the surrounding neighborhood. He was a founding member of the Jefferson United Merchants Partnership, a 30-year-old non-profit organization which worked to revitalize area businesses through advocacy, education and public safety programs.

A historical marker was erected last year in honor of Woodcuts and Harris’s impact in Nashville.

The historical marker on Jefferson Street honors the legacy of Woodcuts Gallery and framing, a longtime business owned by Nashville native Nathaniel Harris, on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn.

Not only does Woodcuts create custom framing projects, but the shop serves as a steward of Nashville art through its large gallery. Hanging in the shop walls are dozens of paintings, prints, framed quilt work and other original artwork, many by African American artists.

Pieces of art in frames created by Harris hang in personal art collections across Nashville and across the country, she said. His work has touched hundreds, if not thousands.

“Mr. Harris gave young artists a chance,” Corder said. “He gave them a chance to show their work… he will be sorely missed.”

Molly Davis covers growth and development at The Tennessean, part of the USA Today Network — Tennessee.

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