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UM Student Turns Her Passion for Painting into Profit

Bible verses are inscribed on the backs of Mary Kathryn Wheatley’s paintings. 

Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.”
Wheatley, a Madison native, is a junior at the University of Mississippi who has turned her passion for painting into a personal business.
She learned how to paint from her mother, who is also an artist … when she isn’t working as a nurse. She has painted murals for many local restaurants, churches, schools and shops. Wheatley said whenever she became discouraged about her work, her mother gently reminded her that with more practice, she would become better.
During the summer before beginning her freshman year at Ole Miss, she and her mother worked on a painting for her dorm room and began posting it on social media. Soon, she began receiving comments and requests for her to paint for others.
“People were saying, ‘I love that painting. You’ve got to make me one,’” Wheatley said. “And before I knew it, I had a business. I was then making about 50 paintings for dorm rooms that fall.
“I started selling to some stores in Ridgeland, Madison, Jackson, and got custom orders from all over the South – Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee. My art was going everywhere. It’s been really fun. It’s been a great job for me while I’m in college so I don’t have to have another job while also making income doing what I love.”
Reagan Tramel, another Madison native and Ole Miss student, bought two of Wheatley’s paintings. She has one at her home in Madison and one at her apartment in Oxford.
“When I first saw Mary Kathryn’s art on her Instagram page, I knew I had to have a painting,” Tramel said. “I noticed that she was also from Madison, so I immediately contacted her on Instagram. I have used one of her paintings in my living room last year, and now it sits above my bed. I know I’ll use it in rooms for any future homes I may have.”
Many wonder if art is a part of her studies at Ole Miss, but it is not. She said she enjoys keeping it separate from schoolwork because she likes to feel no pressure in her creativity.
Despite her huge success with her paintings, Wheatley does not claim full credit for her artistic abilities.
“I like to put Bible verses on the backs of my art because all glory to God for what he has done and the gift he has given me,” Wheatley said. “I love art. It’s a part of who I am. I like to glorify God with my art because it’s not about me. It’s about sharing his love.”
Wheatley puts several different Bible verses on her paintings because she has quite a few favorites. 
“I love Jeremiah 32:3 which is, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love,’ as well as Proverbs 17:17 for girls living in dorm rooms, which says, ‘A friend loves at all times.’”
Wheatley doesn’t paint pictures of specific objects. She freehands abstract paintings. Her signature style is the gold leaf.

Mary Kathryn’s Gold-Leaf Style Painting. Photo by Leah Davis.

“The gold-leaf style has been very popular, but I’m trying to create a new style because it’s been easily copied,” she said. “I’m ready to do something else.”
Lately, Wheatley has been selling her designs to Stagg’s Interiors in Tupelo. 
“It’s been a really good place because the store will bring in my paintings to homes,” she said. “And if they like my painting, they are billed. It’s really cool because they take my art a bunch of different places instead of just sitting in a store.”
The process of making the art, selling and shipping proves to be quite the time consuming task.
“If someone orders a custom painting, the time it takes for me to finish depends on how busy I am,” she said. “I usually try to get it done as soon as I can, but with me being in college, it’s kind of hard. If I’m at home over the break and don’t have a lot going on, I can get a painting finished in two or three days.”
Mary Kathryn Wheatley utilizes the sunshine for the best lighting in making her painting. Photo by Leah Davis.

For this young artist, her painting journey has been overwhelmingly rewarding and not merely in sales.
“It’s opened up a lot of cool opportunities,” she said. “I sold a painting to somebody, and it was featured on HGTV’s House Hunters. It’s really fun, and it’s been cool to connect with people from all over the South.”

By Leah Davis
Read more stories like this on Oxford Stories.
For questions or comments, email hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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