Artist in Profile: Merry Beth Myrick

Through hard work and self-determination, an East Nashville jewelry designer turned a childhood interest into a livelihood

  • Impeccably clad in flat zipper booties and ripped jeans, Merry Beth Myrick is teeming with enthusiasm as she illustrates her passion for metalsmithing, the launch of her custom jewelry line Merry Beth Myrick Designs, and where she finds artistic inspiration. Blue plastic frames and a mane of cocoa brown layers surround a smile that lights up the room. There is a buoyant zest and exuberance about her that makes you silently question what she knows that you don’t. She sits cross-legged in her Holly Street home studio as she launches into an hour of nostalgic show-and-tell.
         “See, this is something that really inspires me,” she begins. A slender wrist wrapped in sterling silver bangles dips into a frayed denim pocket to reveal a small round object she presents on an outstretched palm. At first glance, it looks as if Myrick holds the skull of a blue jay — smooth, gray, hollowed, and delicate. She rolls it across her fingers like an enchanted child admires a trinket. “It’s a petrified walnut we found in our pond filter,” she says. “It must have been there for years. I had to save it. The texture 
    is beautiful.”
         Herein lies the foundation of Myrick’s work — a fervent affection for the palettes and textures found in nature coupled with an innate sentimentality for the everyday objects she collects. “I’m sentimental to the extreme,” she confesses, finding inspiration in the tiny treasures she has saved from her childhood and abroad: a rock from Greece, feathers from Hungary, a seashell from the Gulf of Mexico — each item is a muse, and every story 
    is important.
         Although the sentimentality in her work sets Myrick apart, it is her skills as a metalsmith and the fine techniques she employs that keep her clientele in steady rotation. Copper, brass, sterling silver, and gold are hand-forged, fold-formed, and oxidized, creating hammered lines and crude, natural surfaces. Her blending of mixed metals with semiprecious stones and geometric shapes lends a raw elegance to her designs that has made Myrick one of Nashville’s most up-and-coming jewelry artists.
         “I live for raw stones and materials that I can manipulate into beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces of wearable art,” she says. “I especially love mixing metals. Being raised in the South, we were always taught not to mix our metals, but mixing textures and elements is a huge part of what inspires me to create. So I say wear what you want! It’s all about self-expression. Forget the rules.”
         As the daughter of a seamstress and a self-professed “rebel-at-heart,” Myrick developed a love for self-expression at an early age. She remembers sketching designs for her own outfits at age 8, seeking an individual style that was somewhat difficult to obtain in her hometown of Martin, Tenn.
         “Growing up in a small town, everyone shopped at the same boutiques and wanted the same brands, but I always held an appreciation for original style,” she explains. “I made my own jewelry out of safety pins and beads, and I would draw the clothes I wanted and my mother would create the patterns and sew them for me. She really encouraged me to be creative. I remember going on many trips to Hancock Fabrics with her as a little girl, and thrift stores to buy clothes to repurpose into new outfits.
         “My mother is a huge inspiration to me,” she continues. “She knew her style and was comfortable with it; it’s very elegant and put together. She encouraged me to be myself, to like what I like, and to be confident and happy. It’s why she named me Merry. People ask me all the time why I am always smiling: I’m just happy.”
         Coming face-to-face with Myrick’s unbridled enthusiasm is not for the frail. At just shy of 6-feet tall with an almost bone-crushing embrace, Myrick doesn’t just hug, she defibrillates, resurrecting the weary hearts of unsuspecting acquaintances with every signature hug. Like stepping off a roller coaster, you’re left feeling exhilarated, a little wobbly, with a renewed zest for life. “I’m very passionate and oddly strong,” she says. “Besides, it only hurts if I really love you.”
         It is still show-and-tell hour in Myrick’s home studio as she leaves the room momentarily to return with a three-layered pearl bracelet. “I made my own prom jewelry when I was in high school,” she says. “For this piece, I used fake pearls and dental floss, but the silver clasp is what’s special. It belonged to my grandmother and it was such a big deal that she had given it to me. I was so proud.” She adds the pearl bracelet to her wrist of silver bangles, admires her work briefly, and continues without missing a beat.
         After high school, Myrick spent four years at the University of Tennessee at Martin working toward a fashion merchandising degree, but transferred to Middle Tennessee State University her senior year to earn an accredited degree in textiles, merchandising, and design. It was there where Myrick began to come into her own as an artist and designer.
         “I really began to gain my independence and step outside my box,” she says. “I had never lived anywhere where I didn’t know anyone, so I waited tables, went to school full time, and met so many people. I joined a wonderful design program with other females who enjoyed expressing themselves as much as I did. I challenged myself and wanted to prove myself. It was the best thing I ever did.”
         Myrick made the move to Nashville the day she graduated from MTSU and began a career in wardrobe styling and personal shopping. Jewelry was still something she created for friends and herself — buying beads and pendants and putting things together — but it wasn’t until 2005 when she attended her first silversmithing class that she began honing her skills in metal work and jewelry art. “I went to the Donelson Senior Citizen Center for silversmithing and lapidary class,” she says. “I became a member and everything. Needless to say, I was the youngest in attendance.”
         With these first classes, Myrick’s work began to skyrocket. She began forming her own metal work, cutting custom stones, and in 2006 she introduced Hardwear Merry — her first handcrafted jewelry line of eclectic, repurposed pieces.
         “Hardwear Merry was inspired by the objects I’ve collected from my travels and childhood,” Myrick says. “I take outdated or discarded pieces and redesign them to create something new, original, and beautiful. It’s low-impact, bohemian, and very sentimental.”
         Hardwear Merry Jewelry has been featured in boutiques such as Alegria and Pangaea in Nashville, and A. Wickey Gallery in Seacrest Beach, Fla., but can now be purchased through the company’s website or by custom order. Myrick also hosts jewelry sales on her Facebook page every Wednesday at 8 p.m.
         Today, Myrick is an accomplished metalsmith and jewelry designer who pushes her skill set through continued education. She has completed classes and workshops at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tenn., Sarratt Art Studio at Vanderbilt University, and Indiana University in the MFA metalsmiths program. Her boutique studio is a veritable workshop with torches for soldering, kilns for enameling, a mix of mandrels for shaping, and more hammers than most people will own in a lifetime. Unpolished stones, gauged wires, and sheets of metal fill every drawer, folder, and chest.
         This year marks the official launch of her hand-forged metal design line, Merry Beth Myrick Designs, and the release of her newest collection is set to premier this fall. Expect to see an emphasis on semiprecious stones like moody jaspers and deeply saturated agate contrasted with textured copper, sterling silver, and brass. Myrick also hosts personal shopping experiences for customers in her boutique studio where clients can peruse her original pieces or place a custom order.
         “I love creating custom orders for my clients,” she says. “They open up to me and tell me their stories, and I’m able to learn so much about them through the process. Being able to design lasting pieces for them and touch them in that way is amazing, because to me, the gift is just as important to the giver as it is to the receiver.”
         Looking to the future, Myrick says, “My goal is to keep expanding my knowledge and talent as a jewelry designer. I want to grow my business and keep breaking rules. I’m going to continue to create self-expressive, original pieces of sophisticated, timeless jewelry.
         “I love Nashville!” she adds. “As an artist, this is such an exciting time to live here. And I’m not leaving.”