Stay Gold

A custom painting for her freshman dorm room became a jumping-off place for this young artist’s career.

Written by Leslie Criss | Photos Contributed by Mary Kathryn Decker

When Mary Kathryn Decker, with some help from her mom, created a painting for her freshman dorm room at the University of Mississippi, she had no idea she was about to strike gold.

“There was not a lot of color in the piece, only neutral colors, with some gold leaf added,” Decker said.

The painting created an immediate buzz among dorm residents who wanted to know where Decker had found the painting.

“When I told them I made it, I immediately found myself with requests for 50 to 100 paintings like mine.”

Decker’s summer was spent fulfilling those requests, and when it was time to return for her sophomore year at Ole Miss, her car was crammed full with the paintings she’d done for the dorms of others.

“There was no room in my car for my clothes or any of my things,” Decker said. “My mom brought them to me in her car.”

Her senior year, Decker began creating her colorful heart art pieces, which quickly became as in demand as her first gold leaf painting. Meanwhile, Decker also worked on a nutritionist degree, with which she graduated in May 2019. In June of that year, she married John Decker and moved to his hometown of Tupelo.

An eight-month internship through the University of Northern Colorado enabled Decker to work around northeast Mississippi to garner observation hours needed to become a registered dietitian.

“I was a full-time intern and a part-time artist,” she said.

She finished her internship in March 2020, and her professional path as a dietitian seemed perfectly paved. Then COVID-19 became a part of life and changed Decker’s course.

“I began to transition full time into art,” she said. “The business has blown up; it has been a big blessing.”

The Deckers, who are now parents to a baby boy, moved from Tupelo to her native Madison in February. Her mom, Angel Carraway Woods, and husband Woody Woods, have Canvas Prints & Framing, a sister company to MK Decker Designs.

Though her art is a major part of MK Decker Designs, Decker is required to wear a plethora of hats. She has to be proficient in photography, online retail, communicating with vendors. And there’s even travel for the business.

“I have to be disciplined,” Decker said. “I don’t have the accountability of clocking in and clocking out. There are days my hands don’t touch a paintbrush at all. Every day is really different; that’s why I like it.”

Yes, she even likes the business aspect. Her favorite class at Ole Miss was entrepreneurship.

Decker grew up around art, thanks to her mother, also an artist. Mostly self-taught, she has painted murals for restaurants, done portraits and abstracts. Woods and her young daughter have worked on murals together and also illustrated a children’s book. Woods was also a registered nurse.

“She can do anything,” Decker said. “Her life story is perfect for her and beautiful.”

Decker offered some words of advice to other artists: Be original.

“I would say whether art is a hobby or a passion, stay original, don’t copy,” Decker said.

She follows her own advice, putting her own twist on things she sees that inspire her, adjusting to make them her own. Decker used to do lots of commissioned work, but she no longer has the time.

“We design what we love and what we would love in our houses,” she said.

Most of Decker’s work boasts amounts large or small of gold leaf, which is her signature and adds “a pop of shimmer.” How the gold leaf is applied is a trade secret, and a successful one at that.

As a new dorm season approaches, Decker is eagerly looking forward by working on fabrics and new designs for dorm rooms. After all, her own dorm room at Ole Miss had gone viral on Pinterest. She’s also opened a storefront on Main Street in Madison, where her art can be seen in person. She ships her work all over the country and makes deliveries to Oxford and Tupelo routinely.

“Who would believe that gold leaf painting for my freshman dorm room at Ole Miss started it all for me?” Decker said. “I would not have dreamed this career path for myself. But it’s tailor-made for me, and I really do enjoy it.”