Photo: Chad Crawford

Emily Harper Beard

I got very fortunate during the beginning years of Tomato Fest. I actually got an honorable mention for my art and it felt like I got the blue ribbon.” — Emily Harper Beard

Emily Harper Beard is what many call a unicorn: a Nashville native. (Well, she’s technically a Franklin native, but given the influx of out-of-staters moving to town, we’ll count her as one.) After graduating from MTSU with a degree in graphic design in 2001, Beard settled in Nashville, bouncing around town before finding her long-term home on the East Side after getting married.

“I’ve lived in every pocket before it was a pocket,” she says. “I lived in all of the places before they became the ‘it’ places. [My husband & I] bought our house and settled here in East Nashville. We love the community. …  I think that’s what everyone stays around for. We feel very fortunate to have landed here.”

Beard is what she describes as a “dabbler.” A trained graphic designer, she minored in painting, a part of her education that would later become integral to art practice. Beard’s primary focus these days is the Indonesian art of batik, a dyeing process utilizing wax-resistance to create patterns on fabric and canvas.

“My mom, before she retired, she was an art teacher and [batik] was something that she taught in her class,” Beard says “I really enjoyed doing it so, when I did graduate from college, I started to dabble in it a little more. It’s very popular in Asia and Africa.”

Beard has shown her batik work at art shows, festivals (including the Tomato Art Festival), and online. Her favorite part about sharing her work with others is being able to teach people about a beautiful art form that isn’t necessarily well-known or understood in this region of the country.

“Here in the South, I thought it would be great if people would just learn about it,” Beard says. “If I could do this and people could learn about it that would be successful for me. That would be how I gauged my success. When I have art shows, which are few and far between, I can overhear my younger brother-in-law, who’s a frat boy from Auburn, telling his friends about the process. I feel like that’s success. That’s really what I get out of it the most.”

Since beginning her batik work, Beard has grown her online presence, particularly via Instagram. (For clarity, Beard’s social handles, like @efharper_creative, read as variations on “Emily Frances Harper,” which was Beard’s maiden name.) Her Instagram account shows a wide variety of colorful batik pieces, while her website offers pieces for sale and updates on upcoming projects.

“My biggest engagement is on Instagram,” Beard says. “I’m really learning how to use that as a resource and grow the process there.”

When she’s not making batiks or painting, Beard works as a freelance communications specialist for organizations like the Frist Art Museum, Lockeland Table’s Community Hour, the Tennessee Paddlesports Association, as well as the previous Tomato Art Shows. She loves that her work allows her to channel her passion for bringing the community together.

She’s channeled that same spirit into advocating for Nashville’s visual art scene, and has enjoyed watching arts in Nashville grow since she graduated from college two decades back.

“I’m really proud of being able to watch the art scene grow over the last 20 years,” she says. “I’ve seen the players who have had a hand in it, and that’s been fun because I know how hard we have worked on it and believed in it.”

A particularly fruitful new venture for Beard has been working out of Wedgewood-Houston’s maker space, Fort Houston, a move that has her considering all kinds of new artistic exploration.

“A girlfriend of mine talked me into getting a work table with her at Fort Houston,” she says. “It’s phenomenal what they have going on over there. I can’t even believe that it exists. So she and I have been working over there and trying to feed off the energy of all those other artists. Now I want to learn screen-printing and I want to build things in the workshop. That’s my current excitement.”