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Kingsport's Mary Alice Kelly brightened our world

Amy Millhorn Leonard • Jul 1, 2019 at 4:30 PM

Many people believe to live life well is to do what you love and hope to leave a lasting “mark” upon the world. The Bible says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” – Colossians 3:23.

Mary Alice (Boyd) Kelly lived such a life and not only left her indelible mark on those around her with her spirituality and kindness, but also on the world with her life’s work of beautiful art.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Mary Alice Boyd moved to Kingsport at age 8. Her parents were Wallace, owner-operator of Oakwood Markets, and Nettie Boyd, and siblings are Wally Boyd and Ann Brandow. Mary Alice graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Ohio Wesleyan University. As a classically-trained painter she was inspired by abstract and cubism artists early on.

“Her early style of painting was reminiscent of artists like de Kooning and Kandinsky and she loved to explore the use of light by Ryder,” explains her daughter Alice Corker. She went on to graduate school for art at American University and the Art Students League of New York and received the prestigious Kreeger Graduate Purchase Award in Washington, D.C. Later she continued her art education at ETSU and Emory & Henry College.

Mary Alice married Allan Kelly in 1963. They had two daughters: Alice (Corker), an attorney, and Tricia (Lancor), a radio personality for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Mary Alice put her passion for creating art aside to raise her daughters but found little ways to use it to inspire her children. Alice Corker says, “In elementary school she would put a small note in our lunch boxes, often with a caricature she’d drawn along with encouraging words. She was an incredible mom, loving, kind, intelligent and very supportive of us.”

“I talked to my mom every day and she would always ask me, ‘How can I pray for you today?’ because she was a strong ‘prayer warrior,’” Alice continues. “She loved to talk to people, listen to their stories and prayed daily for many.”

After her daughters were grown, Mary Alice returned to her art and rented a small studio in downtown Kingsport. There she painted, sketched and experimented with texture techniques to create new pieces. “She did many self-portraits and joked that no one would come to her studio and pose for her,” her daughter recalls. More recently she painted pastoral scenes and images depicting Biblical concepts. Alice says of her mother, “She was a very spiritually-minded person and as an artist she would often take spiritual concepts and relate them in her paintings, while seeking to portray light and color in innovative ways.” In an anniversary portrait of First Baptist Church of Kingsport she pasted pieces of scripture and painted verses into the work. Her paintings have been displayed at several galleries, museums, libraries and college campuses locally as well as in other states including New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Alabama, Virginia, Indiana and Washington D.C. She received numerous top awards including “Best in Show” at many local art shows and has also been featured in several exhibitions.

Mary Alice was a very active member of the Kingsport Art Guild as well as First Baptist Church and the Junior League of Kingsport. She played an active part in the art guild’s library for several years. She enjoyed spending time with her family, being with friends and visiting museums and art galleries. Her daughter Alice has fond memories of their last visit to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Sadly, on April 26, 2019, Mary Alice and her husband Allan were involved in an automobile accident in Asheville, N.C. when they were hit by an oncoming driver. She succumbed to her injuries two days later. Allan is slowly recovering from serious injuries he sustained.

In remembrance of long-time member Mary Alice Kelly and in celebration of Kingsport Art Guild’s 70th Anniversary, numerous sketches and paintings from her studio will be on display for the public at a special exhibition and sale during the Fun Fest Art Show. The exhibition opened June 30 and will remain on display until July 26 in the Atrium Gallery at the Kingsport Renaissance Center. It is her family’s hope that some of Mary Alice’s works will find places in local homes and will inspire the community just as Mary Alice was inspirational during her lifetime. On Nov. 3, Mary Alice Kelly will be posthumously awarded the first-ever Kingsport Art Guild Legacy Award and the guild’s library will be named in her honor.