Like many University of Mississippi students, freshmen Kelsey Bates viewed buying dorm decor as one of the most exciting elements of transitioning from high school to college.
“When I began shopping for dorm decorations, I was excited,” she said. “I thought I had everything I needed, and that my room would be different from everyone else’s, but when I moved onto campus, I realized it was the exact opposite.
“Yes, Target and other major retailers have nice stuff, but once I saw 100 girls with the same paintings as mine on their walls, I just wasn’t as excited anymore.”
Bates’ excitement was reignited when she saw fellow UM freshmen Sarah Maxwell’s artwork in a GroupMe message. Maxwell has been providing unique artwork for many girls who want to personalize their dorms.
“My passion for painting dates way back to when I was a little kid,” Maxwell said. “I loved art, and I liked adding my own unique spin on things. It really made them my own and not just another off-the-shelf art piece.”
When Maxwell began preparing for her own transition into dorm life, she decided to take the road less traveled when choosing her decor.
Throughout high school, she painted new pieces frequently. Each time she completed a new work of art, a new offer was thrown her way. This led her to believe her artwork might be popular with UM students like it was in her hometown of Little Rock.
“Back home, my art generated a lot of popularity,” she said. “This made me pretty confident that what I was creating was more than just beautiful to my own eye, but to others’ as well.
“I was nervous though that this same reaction wouldn’t come from my peers at Ole Miss. I thought that perhaps the popularity I had gained in the past came only from my hometown location, not beyond the border of Mississippi.”
Maxwell was proven wrong when she sold some of her most popular paintings in a campus GroupMe.
“I simply wanted to see if putting myself out there would be worth it,” she said. “By sending a short message and a few pictures into a GroupMe created for my dorm hall, I thought I could better gauge the reaction I would get about my work. This also was an opportunity to back out if it wasn’t as liked as I hoped.”
Once responses starting rolling in, Maxwell’s paintings began generating positive feedback. Freshman who didn’t know how to style their room, like Bates, purchased Maxwell’s one-of-a-kind pieces that no one else could copy.
“I smiled the first time I saw a picture pop up,” said Bates, referring to Maxwell’s first GroupMe message. “Sarah’s art was beautiful and unique, not like the stereotypical frilly stuff I see all too often. And to make it even better, Sarah is a freshman just like me, so of course I wanted to support her.”
After selling her first two pieces priced at around $80-$160 depending on size and detail, word spread throughout dorm halls and campus about Maxwell’s talent. Suddenly, Sarah began receiving messages about business inquiries and hopefuls who wanted to purchase one of her unique paintings for their dorm or apartment.