The Heart Girl: Behind MK Decker Designs

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by Kristina Domitrovich // photos by Lindsay Pace

At 23, Mary Kathryn Decker has gained quite the following. Known as “the heart girl,” she sells her pieces all across the U.S., not just in the South. Her pieces are available in local retailers, but can also be seen in homes in New York, Texas and California. Her success? Social media.

“I think that really puts me at an advantage because I’m able to make this full time,” she said. “I think that is what is really liberating. So many people today in our generation, they can work from home and they can create jobs for themselves and don’t have to go to work traditional jobs because of social media. So I’m trying to take advantage of that, because I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and enjoy being my own boss.”

Decker grew up around artists, and her mom was a painter. She remembers going to elementary school and seeing her mother there working on a commissioned mural.

“That was really cool to see her in the hallways every day painting those murals,” she said. “Her uncle taught her how to paint, and their whole family paints.”

Now Decker has a mural of her own in Pizza Vs. Tacos, and will soon have one in downtown Tupelo. It was on a trip to New York with her mother that she was hit with the inspiration that would greatly impact her artistic style.

“I visited SoHo New York City a few summers ago with my mom, and was really inspired by a lot of the street art that I saw there,” she said. “It just came to me about a year after visiting there, ‘Why don’t I put this on canvas?’ And so I did, and then it just kind of progressed into being known as the heart girl.”

But she never started out with the hearts in mind. Originally, it started with a painting she completed for her dorm room freshman year at the University of Mississippi. She said everyone loved the piece; so much so, that when she came back to school for her sophomore year, her car was so full of commissioned pieces that her mom had to bring her clothes in a different trip. Back then, the craze was neutrals — which is completely different from Decker’s style now.

“I think (the hearts) are happy. I think they’re colorful,” she said. “I think for so long, everybody wanted all-white houses with no color, and I did start off doing gold leaf paintings, which are extremely neutral. So I’ve gone from one end of the spectrum to the other with all the color. But I still kept things that were me: I did the gold leaf, which is kind of my signature, and the glossy top coat that kind of gives it that extra pop, and it’s just been really fun to see the joy that it brings people seeing the hearts.”

In addition to the hearts, Decker also dabbles in butterfly paintings, along with abstract pieces using oil paint. For the oil paintings, she will make reproductions using a giclée printer. She said this is the best option for her oil paintings; not only are oil paints more finicky to work with and dry, but it also reduces production costs, so these pieces are more affordable to her clientele. For Decker, who writes thank you notes and a Bible verse on the back of each canvas, her clients are important.

“I communicate with them and I meet up with them and I develop relationships with them,” she said. “(It) just really sends out a message, and I want it to be more than just painting; I want to have a message.”

In addition to her painting, after graduating with a degree in nutrition and dietetics, she completed an eight-month program and is now a registered dietitian. Though she is still unsure how that will play a part in her life, one thing she has learned is how helpful being an artist is with another side project: she and her husband, John Decker, remodeled their home.

The art on either side of the master bedroom’s bed was created by one of her family members.

“Doing this house and renovating this house come so much more naturally to me,” she said, thanks to her background as an artist.

The couple met her sophomore year of college, and was married June 1, 2019. Throughout her senior year of school and during their engagement, they were remodeling their house. The day after their wedding, they returned to Tupelo for their “homeymoon” to finish renovations.

Her husband is a part of Decker & Sons, a Tupelo-based contracting company. For their home, the couple did all the renovations themselves, from painting, redoing the floors to plumbing.

She said through all the blood, sweat and tears that went into their home, they both worked well together.

“Both of us work really well together because we’re both what we call Type A, and like things done a certain way,” she said. “We have the same style and I think that’s helped our process here … We make a good team.”

As far as style, the couple opted for antique pieces or redoing existing furniture pieces. Mixing styles where they saw fit — like the living room’s integration of reupholstered wing-backed chairs and an acrylic-metallic side table; having milk glass next to gold Annieglass from their wedding registry — helped them “design on a dime,” as she likes to put it.

“We did it all, but we learned so much about what we want in a house and what we don’t want,” she said. “And we learned — even him, being in construction, he still learned about home building and remodels through this project.”


1 Comment
  1. Mary Kathryn is a Southern gem. I have watched this beautiful child with a heart of gold develop into a gorgeous adult with such humility and talent.

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