KG: So, Knoxville Girl, are you originally from Knoxville?
Beth: No. I am from Memphis and I came to Knoxville in 2002 to study art at UT. When I graduated in May of 2007 most people I knew were moving but I decided to stay because I love the mountains and I had really started enjoying Knoxville. I remember the first time I went to First Friday. I was in college and I borrowed a bike and rode from campus to downtown and it was an exhilarating experience. I decided to do it every month. I felt like the Knoxville arts scene was really just starting to get going and I really wanted to be a part of it.
KG: A lot of kids like to draw and paint when they are young but lose that creative spark as they get older. What made you decide to study art in college?
Beth: When I was young I drew all of the time. I didn’t really know what it meant to be a professional artist but I knew I wanted to go to art school. But I did try to change my major several times in college because it scared me too much. I think mentally I wasn’t prepared to make the kind of work I really wanted to make. I just felt I wasn’t ready yet, if that makes sense. It takes a lot to be confident in your work.
KG: What is the oldest piece of your art your parents have on display at their house?
Beth: My parents are really sweet and they bought a lot of my artwork when I was in college. I am sure they have boxes and boxes of my art from over the years. My parents do have a painting hanging up that I made in high school. My dad took a photograph of a mountain landscape that I painted.
KG: You are quite an active blogger, from writing for The Sunsphere is Not a Wigshop to your own blog WithBearHands. How did you get involved as a blogger?
Beth: I was invited to be a writer for the Sunsphere is not a Wigshop blog not too long after I graduated. It was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. I wasn’t a big blog reader, but I loved writing and I eventually started writing way more than the other writers. There were seven other writers but I felt like I was the most active. We even won Best of Knoxville for two years. Our perspective for that blog was to pretend that we were tourists in Knoxville and that made me love Knoxville even more because I could look at it from the standpoint of what is new here, what have I not seen, and what can I go find out and share with other people. Then I started my own blog, WithBearHands, which now is a blog mostly about what I am creating right now. I really want to use my blog to promote art in Knoxville.
KG: A lot of artists have poor web presence but yours is pretty impressive. Do you have any formal training in web design?
Beth: I have a great friend named Luke who built my website in college. He is a genius. He taught me how to update it myself using code and really set me up for success. I also learned a lot from just being on etsy. The reason I started my own blog was that people on etsy have their blog and then move to Facebook. Anyone can do etsy and blogs but it just takes time.
KG: You also helped to start in the 17th Street Studios at Redeemer Church. Tell us about that.
Beth: I go to church at Redeemer Church in Fort Sanders and they weren’t using the second story of this wing of the church. Pastor Eddie Young, who does a lot with young people, said he didn’t know what to do with the space and I suggested artist studios. So in May 2010 I wrote a proposal with two other people and we submitted to the church and now we have about 13 artists working up there. It is really cool. Each artist has their own studio and there are common spaces too. Artists just apply to me, then there is an interview process, and it’s only $40 to $50 a month. But there is not any heat or air or running water on the floor. It’s kind of basic, but it is a great space to work.
KG: I started Knoxville Girl to introduce the un-sung heroes who do so much to make this community great. Do you ever do any volunteer work or donate your talents, art or time?
Beth: Recently I started in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and I just got matched so in a couple of months I will have my new Little Sister who is in sixth grade. I wanted to do it because I needed a challenge and this will definitely be a challenge! In college I did a lot of volunteer work but I mostly jumped from organization to organization. I even organized a play group at KARM. But my favorite experience was after I studied abroad I came back and decided to give rides to international students. It had been so awesome when people gave us rides over there. So I decided to do it at UT. My friend said it’d be creepy but I made flyers and put them up all over campus and I said if you are an international student I will give you a ride anywhere, just call me. I tried to organize other drivers but it ended up just being me. So I would take students to get their driver’s license or to the store and they started inviting me to parties and giving me gifts from their countries. And I still keep in touch with some of them from China and Macedonia and Romania… all over the world. I’ve never seen more appreciative people.
KG: Knoxville has so much going on all of the time. What are some of your favorite things to do in Knoxville?
Beth: I’ve really started doing a lot of new things lately. The other night I went with a couple of friends to the Bearden Beer Market and we did their 5K where you run with a group of people then you drink beer afterwards. It was hard but I would love to keep doing it. I also have a friend who coordinates square dances at The Laurel Theater and it is so much fun. Of course I also still do First Fridays but right now I am in my studio a lot. Plus I love music but as an artist I am on a very limited budget so I love that Knoxville has so many amazing free art and cultural things to do. Basically, if it is free and cultural, I am there. Especially if there is beer! But really, anymore, I am up for whatever.
KG: This ought to be fun. Tell a little-known fact about you.
Beth: A little known fact about me is that I had open heart surgery in high school. But on a lighter note, I like some of Michael Bolton songs. The video for “Said I loved you... but I lied” has fire, flames and stallions, and a lady on the beach. I do like some cheesy music like that. That should be embarrassing enough.
KG: What would you like to see happen in Knoxville over the next five years?
Beth: I think the Knoxville art scene is on a good path, but we have not arrived. It needs a lot of work and the only way that will happen is if good artists can find the means to stay and work here. I stayed in Knoxville to help with that any way I can. I want to see higher standards of art and venues that display art in Knoxville and want to see more people in Knoxville buy artwork.
KG: Where can readers learn more about your art and upcoming projects?
Beth: I have a booth at the new Nostalgia on McCalla and I will have a show at Bliss Home in July, but mostly I am in my studio doing a lot of custom work so I don’t have a lot of shows planned right now. I also have a picture hanging in Bistro at the Bijou or you can also go visit Chyna Brackeen or Peggy Hambright. They have some of my art. But the very best way to visit my Facebook or blog WithBearHands or visit WithBearHands.com
KG: There are so many inspirational women in this town making a difference and changing peoples’ lives for the better. Who would you say is your “Knoxville Girl”?
Beth: Peg Hambright who owns Magpies Bakery. She is a baker and artist but she is an awesome business woman too. She does so well in communicating her product, her color-schemes, her designs, and how they sell themselves; she just does such a great job. She really inspires me.