The Maker City

David Harman

By Katherine Saxon

Exploring the city you live in can often lead to inspiration. David Harman (Knoxville ’15) found himself discovering new places, neighborhoods and people while walking and riding his bike around his hometown of Dallas. The first map he made highlighting all of the city’s neighborhoods was just the beginning for this “maker” and his business, Native Maps.

Harman and his wife, Rebecca (Knoxville ’16), have since expanded the collection of maps to include 21 cities. Known for their meticulous designs, the maps are printed in small batches with acrylic ink.

David and Rebecca Harman with their daughter, Augie.

The couple moved to Knoxville to attend graduate school at UT Knoxville. David Harman completed his Master of Fine Arts in painting while Rebecca Harman completed her Master of Science in environmental and soil science.

“I think going to art school was actually some of the best small-business training I could have received,” he says. “It taught me to ask hard questions and keep a critical eye with business.”

The business started small, with David Harman printmaking the maps in his home’s attic space, which he converted into a studio. The business continued to grow after gaining national recognition in the West Elm LOCAL grant competition. Along with an online shop, the maps may be found at locally owned shops and West Elm locations.

David Harman’s map of Knoxville.

The couple fell in love with Knoxville because of its laid-back and creative vibes. That connection made Harman want to help Knoxville become known as a “maker city.”

“I think a maker is anyone who chooses to create something, anything, with his own two hands,” Harman says. “I tend to have a very open definition of a ‘maker.’ I think it’s mostly a culture of appreciation for individuals who are passionate enough about something to make it themselves. Even if you don’t ‘make’ anything right now—if you relate at all to the term ‘maker’—I think you already are one.”

Harman joined the city’s Mayor’s Makers Council, where he works with other makers to develop a shared vision for the region’s diverse maker community, raise awareness of Knoxville’s local maker movement, and address policies and issues that impact maker business.

David Harman prints artistic maps in his studio.

In 2016, he attended the first Etsy Maker Cities Summit in New York City. After returning, David helped develop a similar event for Knoxville. The inaugural Maker City Summit was held in September 2016 and brought together makers, artists, developers, manufacturers, city officials and entrepreneurs for a day of dialogue about how to create a stronger maker community. The summit recently celebrated its third year with hundreds in attendance.

“I have met dozens of local makers that have come out of UT,” he says. “I think more collaboration can and will happen between UT and the maker movement, but I think UT is clearly equipping students with the skills they need to follow their passion.”