Painter and portraitist Avery Handly was born in Nashville and graduated from Wallace University School and Vanderbilt University, where he majored in English and was influenced by the Fugitives. His first art instruction, at age twelve, was from Miss Emma Cantrell at Watkins Institute in Nashville. Later he studied with Thomas Hart Benton at the Kansas Art Institute and with Grant Wood at the University of Iowa.
After serving overseas in the navy, Handly settled in Winchester, Franklin County. He painted semi-abstract, cubist, and abstract works. He did landscapes, still lifes, social comment, and modern pictures based on religious and theological themes. Late in life, he converted to Roman Catholicism. Throughout his work, he continued to reconcile abstraction and representationalism. He painted portraits of Harry Tatum, Mrs. Harvey Templeton Jr., Miss Avery Templeton, and Bishop Ferrani from a photograph, as well as, perhaps, five self-portraits and portraits of family members. He believed that “all paintings have to start with a basis of magnificence. By certain deft twists and tricks, you turn magnificence into meanness–or vice-versa.” (1)
During the late 1940s and 1950s Handly had one-man shows at the University of the South, the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, and the Centennial Club in Nashville. His most important one-man show as held at the Ward Eggleston Gallery in New York in early 1950. He died in Winchester on October 22, 1958. A memorial exhibition was held at the Nashville Arts Festival in 1960.