Mary Lee Keeler
by Dean Johnson
Note to Readers: This is installment #1 a 3-part series highlighting some of the center’s top-selling artists and exploring why they think their works are attractive to our patrons, as well as their offerings of advice for fellow and new artists.
Thirteen years ago, Mary Lee Keeler signed up for a class at the Fountain City Stained Glass Studio. She quickly discovered that the process of creating art from iridescent glass pieces offered endless possibilities and compelled her to think and focus in new ways.
Mary Lee describes the experience as an “escape from everything else, where you find yourself always in the moment.” Not long after that class, she became a regular at the studio, eventually both volunteering and working and helping others learn that art form she loved.
For ten years, Mary Lee’s stained glass treasures have glittered in the sunlight coming through the windows at the Appalachian Arts and Craft Center. In 2015, she began making and selling cornhusk flowers, a craft she taught herself after seeing similar offerings at the Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea. Mary Lee’s other artistic endeavors have included painting barn quilt squares, although she says interest in these have waned in recent years.
Mary Lee is one of AACC’s top selling artists. But she attributes her success not only to her efforts, but also to the entire AACC community and what it offers the public. She also feels that AACC succeeds, in part, due to its location, with an easy on and off exit from I-75, making it a convenient side journey for travelers going into, through, or out of Knoxville. The exit signage along the interstate which includes AACC has also helped, she believes.
To Mary Lee, the key to successful selling lies in variety: a variety of sizes, of types, of subjects, and, maybe most importantly, a variety of prices. Her array of gift shop items runs anywhere from cornhusk flowers and small stained glass pieces priced under $10 to larger and more intricate pieces in the $50-$60 price range and very large panels for as much as $300. She also believes that keeping her stock adequate and fresh are keys to her success.
Her advice to new and fellow artists for maximizing sales:
1) Don’t underprice your wares. People expect to pay a premium for handmade items and underpricing your products devalues them and those of your fellow artists.
2) Offer a variety of price points.
3) Keep your display fresh; think like a retailer, always looking ahead to the next holiday or season.
4) Consider travelers schedules through our area and make sure your offerings are
adequate during those times.
5) Local subjects sell–whether its mountains, streams, lake life or wildlife, people both living and vacationing in our area like mementos of what they love about East