Deborah Mills Thackrey’s former professional experiences prepped her well for her current calling as a creator of functional art. As a longtime photographer, Mills Thackrey has participated in seven solo shows, 85 group shows, and a museum fellowship, and she owned an art gallery in Silicon Valley and curated several art shows in San Francisco; as a former freelance graphic designer, she worked with clients such as Pillsbury, Esprit, and Apple. Since moving to Kingston in 2012, she’s focused on digitally printing her fine art photography on fabric. She developed a love of textiles and prints having grown up surrounded by her Pennsylvania Dutch great-grandmother’s quilts, and growing up on Texas’s Route 66, with its vintage neon signs and quirky roadside attractions, it’s no surprise that graphic design and imagery come naturally to her. “I grew up staring at patterns,” she says.
All of Mills Thackrey’s skills and interests came together when a collector asked to keep the print of one of her photos for a week “to see how it felt in her home,” she recalls. “She decided not to buy it because she said in order to hang it in her living room, she’d have to recover her couch.” It was an a-ha! moment: “Not to be cynical, but people shop for art to fit their furniture,”she says. Her business, Art for Living, grew from there.
Mills Thackrey offers hand-sewn pillows along with tote bags and handpainted, upcycled chairs, all created with fabrics digitally printed with her original, abstract photos. The found-object images on her textiles vary widely: natural (including stones and water), urban warm (graffiti, cracked concrete), artistic (fresh or peeling paint), urban nocturnal (lights, architecture), urban cool (metal and rust), reflections (water, glass), and bright accents (distressed walls, paint-dripped floors). Whether she’s at home or traveling, Mills Thackrey is always shooting. For the 2019 Kingston Design Showhouse, she created meditation cushions using images of rough, textured, peeling paint from the side of an old train car.