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VOL. 38 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 12, 2014

Beautiful day for neighborhood mapmakers

Knoxville couple score runner-up finish in national small-biz contest

By Joe Morris

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David Harman examines a silk screened print he has just made of Brooklyn neighborhoods. He and his wife own Native Maps.

-- Chase Malone | The Ledger

Like many other things on paper, maps have largely become extinct as interactive, digital versions have taken over.

But for students of history, as well as those with a keen interest in the neighborhoods and boundaries within cities, the paper map is an irreplaceable document.

Perhaps that’s why Knoxville mapmakers David and Rebecca Harman, owners of Native Maps, caught the eye of home-furnishing retailer west elm, and recently were named runners-up in its, “We Love LOCAL Small Business’’ grant contest.

The contest is a part of West Elm’s LOCAL initiative, which is building and expanding a creative network of regional craftspeople, and now has more than 160 artists and makers involved.

The contest drew in businesses of all sizes and varieties, according to west elm President Jim Brett, who says, “Our grant winners and runner-ups are similar to so many makers and artists we’ve met through west elm LOCAL who are motivated to make a difference through their craft.

“We hope our continued partnership will support them in realizing their strategic path for growth while reinforcing their business principles.”

David Harman along with his wife, Rebecca and daughter Augie, in front of a silk screen of Chicago neighborhoods. Harman says his daughter and her well-being are the motivations that keeps their small
business running

-- Chase Malone | The Ledger

For Harman, the maps blended artwork he was already doing with an interest he’d developed in the urban landscape of Dallas, where he’d attended college.

“I was in a studio close to downtown, and was painting but also very interested in exploring the city around me,” he says. “I was born and raised in Dallas, but the way I moved around in the city was on major roads and interstates – I didn’t know the nooks and crannies.”

As he dove into different areas, he became interested in the history of neighborhoods, places that he “knew but really didn’t know,” and as he met people, looked at architecture and engaged with Dallas on a ground level, he began thinking about neighborhood maps.

“There were city maps, but nothing of the neighborhoods that make up the city,” he recalls. “So I started putting one together. I sat with a friend, and we started to hash out the smaller neighborhoods we knew of, and it was a really interesting process.

“We got to know the city really well as we went through record books and other documents to find neighborhood lines and boundaries. We also kept in touch with organizations like Preservation Dallas and other historical societies, and they helped us figure out boundaries.

“Then we worked on the smaller neighborhoods, the ones that are sometimes more interesting and historically rich. After that, the project really just snowballed.”

And so was born Native Maps, which eventually branched out past Dallas to include maps of Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Manhattan and Los Angeles. The maps are screen-printed, a technique Harman has been using since high school.

His on-and-off screen-printing business was mostly confined to t-shirts and one-off projects, but it lent itself very well to mapmaking, he explains.

“I liked how the final product felt; it was more like something an object you’d want to hang onto, and it was far more permanent than a digital printout. So I began looking for some good paper, and just went from there.”

Soon after, he and Rebecca, who at the time were engaged and have since married, decided to move to Knoxville to pursue graduate degrees.

Soon they fell in love with the city, and were able to convert their attic into a studio and keep Native Maps going.

“It’s such a livable city, and we’re just two miles from downtown and so we can bike to campus. It’s not a small city, but it can feel that way because there’s not too much infrastructure in the way, like there is in Dallas,” he says. “And of course, we’ve begun to start plotting out some neighborhoods.”

That said, the Knoxville map is a ways off, as there are other cities currently in the queue that must be finished first.

“We’ve done most of the work for Knoxville, but suddenly we got really busy and so we’ve been working more on building the business,” Harman says. “We’re now working on Nashville, Austin and Portland, Oregon.

“Hopefully we’ll get Knoxville done after that, because we’ve already lived here too long and made too many friends to not have a map of where we’re at.”

The feedback he gets is uniformly positive, Harman adds, explaining that that not only gives him ideas for new cities to map, but also encourages him when doing the sometimes boring work of researching plot lines and boundaries.

“People are very passionate about their cities, and they are always asking us when we’ll be doing one showing where they live,” he says.

“We’re very young for a business, but because of all this interest, we’re really doing very well. It’s been great to jump into the scene of makers around the country, and begin to collaborate with other people who are making great things.”

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