Tree Spirit

Caroline Allison
by J. Wes Yoder - Tennessee - June/July 2011

Nashville painter Emily Leonard’s arboreal zeal

When she was fourteen and I was eleven, her parents and mine purchased sixty-five acres near Franklin, Tennessee, and parceled it out among a few other families. In the afternoons I would see her walking the gravel drive out to the main road. The drive came out of the trees and crossed the meadow and went into the woods again.

Fifteen years later I ran into Emily Leonard, and she showed me her paintings of trees. I did not have to ask if she painted anything else. It was obvious that the trees, among which we had been children, had written a mystery on her, and now she felt compelled to go on sussing it out with broad washes and trembling lines. “I don’t really paint the beautiful trees,” she says. “I paint the trees that are everywhere, the ones that are next to you right now, the ones in the yard.”

Leonard attended Furman University, in South Carolina, and after graduating with a degree in fine art, she returned to Middle Tennessee to paint. She had many different subjects at first, but soon it became only trees. “My dad asked me if I was ever going to paint anything else again, and I said, ‘Give me ten years.’” Now, at thirty-five, as she readies for a show opening June 30 at Blue Spiral 1 gallery in Asheville, North Carolina, her study seems far from over.

“Have you ever stood in front of her paintings?” says Herb Williams, curator at the Rymer Gallery in Nashville, which represents Leonard. “They stand the test of time for me. You could keep coming back to them again and again and still see new and compelling parts.”