Chattanoogan: Mary Keasler - Piecing It All Together

Thursday, October 4, 2012 - by Jen Jeffrey

Quilting has been around for centuries and beautiful works have been made for different reasons. Mary Keasler of Cleveland, sees it as art. In fact, she creates them as textile art in her studio and her unique style is limitless.

Living all of her life in this area, Mary says she has always loved being creative.

“My childhood was very rural; we grew up on a dairy farm,” Mary says. “I was fairly isolated with no kids my age to play with so I had an imaginary friend until I was in school and had more contact with people on a daily basis.”

Mary’s first two years of school were in a two-room building in a little community called Tasso.

“I always wanted to be a writer or an artist. My parents thought it best that I would become a teacher; that was a good career choice for a woman before she got married and had kids - very traditional thinking,” Mary states.

“I went to Emory and Henry College in Virginia and majored in history with minors in political science and English so I could teach (even though I didn’t really want to). I never did teach. My first job was as a bank teller,” she says.

Mary worked as an office manager and bookkeeper before getting married. When she wed Steve Keasler she began keeping the books for his father’s business and then later for their own towing business called River Towing. They owned tow boats and pushed barges up and down the river.   

“I was a stay at home mom but we had a home office so I was able to do both. Finally, I had gotten back into fabric. Quilts were something I have always loved. I began with the traditional quilts, but I have deviated from that,” Mary relates.

“I still will do traditional quilts on occasion but I really like growing and expanding my skills in another direction and more of an artistic work,” she says.

“These are not your grandma’s quilts,” her brother Paul Ramsey says.

With Mary’s passion to combine her artistic nature with her creative talent for quilting, she sought other techniques to help her find her own niche.

“I have tried countless ways, studying different textile artists and how they do things to come up with my own representational quilt. I usually draw a pattern on a piece of 8x10 and then enlarge it. When I got more involved in quilting and traditional quilting; I went to various quilt shows, entered contests and found on the national and international level that there are people who do something other than traditional work,  I was just blown away when I saw it and I thought, ‘I want to do that!’” Mary proclaimed.

She explains how textile art quilting differs. “Technically, it is a quilt. There is a top piece, a layer of batting and a backing all sewn together. I really enjoy doing large pieces but you have to have a fairly large wall to hang them on. They approximate an 86 x 98 size quilt or textile art,” Mary says.

“If you get cold, you can use them to cover up with,” she chuckles, “but they are pretty much for art. I make down sizes of an 18 x 12 also.”

The shows that Mary has entered so far seem to focus on the more traditional type of quilt and may be a factor why she has not yet won a grand prize with the traditional style being the emphasis. However, with Mary’s unique artistic style and abilities the events could soon take notice of the more elaborate or diverse styles like Mary’s.  

“I have won second place in wall hanging quilts in an international show as well as honorable mentions and in the local district/regional shows I have won different prizes and ribbons. Just to be accepted in a regional and international contest is an honor. You have to be chosen by a jury panel,” Mary states.

After finding her own personal style and her involvement with the shows, Mary is now ready to venture out into the business side of things as she has had several people interested in her quilts and have encouraged her to market them.

“I finally decided to get serious about this. I have had a lot of comments and support from friends and other people. I have sold several pieces but I had never tried to get out there and market myself,” Mary admits.

“I would much rather try it now, than entering the shows. It is so much trouble to fill out all that paperwork. You have to insure them and there is a chance that your quilt could get lost in the mail when you send it to a show,” she says.

Some of her works only take a few months, but pieces such as “Thistles” took three years. “When I do a project, it is something that I am excited about. It is something that I love to do. Working on commission doesn’t appeal to me – I have to be free to create.  To interpret someone else’s thoughts or their vision takes away from my creativity and I would always be second guessing what I am doing,” Mary admits.

This is my passion; I have always loved anything having to do with textile. I want to spend more time in my studio creating, to do the art work and try to sell it. I have been approached by an interior designer who is doing local commercial buildings and offices and have been asked to provide my work for that,” she says.

Creating shading or a 3-D effect comes naturally to Mary as she pieces together colors and shades to create the portrait of her husband Steve.

“I have always liked to draw and never had any training or art classes. It was just a hobby at first. I was in Golden, Colo., a few years ago and went to a quilt museum. I just happened to be there at a time when a lady from Montana was doing a little lecture and showing examples of the work she did. She explained her technique so I came home and just tried it,” Mary states.

Her raw talent allows her to have very little training yet come up with beautiful masterpieces. Mary also hand dyes a lot of the fabrics that she uses for her textile art pieces.

“What I do is so different from most people, in this area; I have pretty much relied on myself for inspiration. I just love to do it. I can usually do whatever I put my mind too, though it isn’t always how I would like it – people do say I have a certain style, but I like all types of art,” Mary claims.

"It’s very important - a priority - to be able to use my creativity to generate this. When I can come into my studio and throw some strips together and make it beautiful, it is therapy, which is a lot cheaper than going to a psychiatrist!” Mary quips.

“It just makes you feel good. It is a good sense of accomplishment and self-pride of what you can do.”

Visit her Blogspot at:

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