Scores of artists are in Damselfly Studio and Gallery's family

Story and photographs by Ashley Trosper
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

For Eric and Mary Thoreson, artisanship and kinship are one and the same.

As the owners of Damselfly Studio and Gallery in Midway, they say honesty, loyalty and trust are keys to keeping their business going.

Damselfly, which has been around for four years now, has about 150 artists in its family, according to Eric. On any given day, the gallery houses work from 150 to more than 200 artists, mostly Kentuckians or other regional artisans, he said. Anything from pottery or glassware to paintings and jewelry can be found at the quaint shop on Main Street.

Eric said they decided to name the gallery Damselfly because it was different. "Mary wanted something with dragonflies," he said. "It was really catchy. It was unique; another one of my wife's great ideas."

But more than a catchy name, Damselfly is home to a plethora of artisans. "We are the best gig going for artists," he said. "People have trusted us."

They would know. Eric and Mary are both artists. The two, who have been married for 22 years, began as jewelry makers.

Mary Schnelly, a Damselfly customer for four years, said it’s their experience in the creative world that makes them successful gallery owners.

"Damselfly does a great job of representing regional artists," Schnelly said. "Mary and Eric are artists. They get to know their clientele."

Mary designs jewelry with the beads her husband makes, according to Eric. And before there was Damselfly, the couple said, they showed off their work at local art shows in Eastern Kentucky.

But Eric, a stone mason by trade, said he and his wife began to look at "walk-around towns" throughout the state when they decided to move from a farm in hilly Estill County, where the Kentucky River enters the Outer Bluegrass.

"We discovered Midway right off the bat," Eric said, also mentioning he was impressed with the Midway Merchants Association and the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce.

"We noticed there was a 'for rent' sign up above Celtic Trends," an Irish boutique, he recalled. "I usually don't carry any cash on me, but I had been squirreling away some money for a Christmas gift. I had $500, and that's exactly what the rent price was. That's how we started. It was just serendipity."

But while the business started with just a little luck and $500, Epretty soon Damselfly needed more space, Eric said. After another three moves, all to larger locations on Main Street, the Thoresons bought a gray-paneled building with red-framed windows at 126 E. Main.

With a secure location, Eric and Mary continued making and selling jewelry and showing off artwork from friends.

Eric said he began crafting glass beads, left, almost a decade ago. The art of making glass beads, he said, is one of the oldest existing art forms, still done today as it was 10,000 years ago.

"I like it because I try to do no two beads the same," Eric said. "I can spend anywhere from five minutes to over an hour on one bead. It varies with technique and style. Before we got bigger, the beads used to carry our business."

The art side really took off when Mary, who formerly worked in the medical field, took over, he said.

"My wife's been the one who's really developed this [relationship] with the artists. We don't dictate what comes through the door. The test is whether Mary likes it or not. She's got the eye for it."

Schnelly, the longtime customer, agreed.

"I've found an abundance of things I've wanted to have in my home," she said. "It is not static in the least. Mary is always bringing in new artists."

Mary said she enjoys being surrounded by the creativity. "My goal is to keep infusing new artists and have an ever-changing environment for people to enjoy," she said.

While the environment might be ever-changing, with the stock in trade, Mary and Eric still take care of the artists. He said the atmosphere always has the artists' best interests in mind.

Damselfly charges a consignment fee, but not a wholesale fee. Both Eric and Mary said they have experienced excessive fees, a policy based on the owners' experiences.

"We've tried to market our product," Eric said. "It was like I was making the beads for fun and someone else was selling them for a profit. ... We've been fair."

As for the future, the Thoresons said they'll stick with the business plan that's worked so far: no plan.

"We're pretty proud of our little gallery," Eric said. "We have internationally and nationally known artists. There are really cool people here."