Emily Leonard has been a full-time studio artist for over twenty years. Her paintings are included in numerous private and public collections around the world including those of the Tennessee State Museum, the Swedish Hospital in Seattle, and the UBS offices of Karen Elson and Governor Bill Haslam. Leonard has been published in dozens of magazines and catalogs including Garden and Gun magazine, Southern Living, and Studio Visit by Open Studios Press. The painting I Woke Up And Loved You is featured in the art book Speak for the Trees, alongside artists such as David Hockney, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and the Starn Brothers. In 2012, she was invited to participate in residency programs by the Alfred and Tratford Klots foundation in Brittany, France and the Jentel Foundation in Banner, WY. Leonard is represented by David Lusk Gallery in Nashville and Memphis and Blue Spiral 1 in Asheville, NC.
I met Emily when I had just started Elizabeth Suzann. I was selling clothing at a local craft fair, Porter Flea, and she (along with her kind husband and sweet daughter) came into my booth. I remember being completely mesmerized by her ease, warmth, and grace. She purchased a few things that evening, but we got to know each other better over time as she would come to visit my small studio to shop and to try things on while her daughter Wendy would quietly explore.
A year or so after we met, Emily asked if I could create an outfit for her to wear onstage during a collaboration she was working on with the Nashville Ballet - “…But the flowers have yet to come." The project is incredible - Emily painted a 22-foot mural live onstage while Matthew Perryman Jones and the ballet performed. It was an overwhelming intersection of mediums - visual art, movement, music. At any rate, I made a drapey, ivory linen dress for the performance that adopted all the colors of the painting as she worked, and watching her create that evening really got to my core. Since that project, we’ve worked with Emily a multitude of times, and if you’ve ever visited our warehouse, she painted the stunning double-sided, large-scale mural right in the center of the building. She worked on that project in the middle of the summer when we didn’t have air conditioning, and I’ll never forget those hot afternoons watching the colors come together.
It’s not just her work that I’m enamored with, though. So much of what I have long admired about Emily is her quiet wisdom and honesty. She always has valuable words of advice to share, but she does not shy away from the truth. Her work is raw and real, and the way she writes about her process is intimate and honest while still providing insight. Just recently, she wrote about finding the right rhythm and time of day to work and accepting those natural parts of yourself rather than fighting against them. I am still thinking about those words weeks after reading them, and they resonated with me because it not only felt helpful and instructive, but they also felt rooted in genuine experience and emotions she’d felt firsthand. These are the same notes I pick up on in her paintings. There is history and narrative there to learn from, but it’s her narrative.
Including Emily in this campaign was such an honor. She is one of the women I pictured when developing the concept, and witnessing her work during the ballet performance was a critical point of inspiration for the project altogether. The way we create art and the role clothing plays in facilitating that is something I got to experiment with very literally with that project, and this campaign really brought the concept full circle. We photographed Emily at her home studio, and believe me, it’s just as magical there in real life as it is in the images. She worked on prepping her large-scale surfaces while her daughter Wendy colored and learned how to operate Chelsea’s digital camera. Sturdy cotton canvas materials were just the right match for the more manual prep work. The air is quiet, the back door of her studio opens into pure green foliage, and her studio is swathed in natural-colored drop cloths and sunlight. A soft, sleeveless, linen tunic that will become a canvas in its own right pairs perfectly with well-worn studio denim and red clogs. Up inside her beautiful mid-century home, collections of artwork cover the walls, and every possession feels like it has a story. A silk blouse and linen pant easily curl up on the couch for some reading, but add a sandal, and she’s ready to head out for the evening. Nothing in Emily’s life seems to lack intention, creating an environment that is warm, storied, and captivating.
We asked Emily what role clothing plays in her life, and here’s what she had to say:
"Clothing is a habitat. I find myself reaching for an ES piece nearly every time I get dressed, not because of how they look but more because of how they feel. We LIVE in our clothes. They are the closest thing to us that isn't us. They're our base home, our most intimate surrounding. The natural fibers and quality construction of ES pieces make me feel comfortable and at home in my clothes. In fact, right now I'm wearing the first piece I ever bought from Liz - a hand-splattered painted Marlena."
Emily wears the Clyde Jumpsuit in Natural Cotton Canvas (see a similar style), Clyde Trench in Clay Cotton Canvas (see a similar style), Sleeveless Placket Top in Ivory Midweight Linen (see a similar style), Florence Pant in Flax Midweight Linen, Parabola Top in Navy Silk Crepe, and Clyde Billow Skirt in Clay Cotton Canvas (style discontinued).