Home & Garden

Budding artists

They're inelegant blobs of drywall mud that have been turned into colorful, jewel-bedecked works of art.

They're flowers that have been given names like Cadillac, Lexus, Kelp, Aztec and Sasha.

These pieces of ”wall jewelry“ — flower sculptures decorated with crystals and pieces of antique jewelry — are the creations of Lexington mother-daughter duo Susan Westrom and Grace Becknell, and they have begun to get attention from area art lovers.

Four flowers created by Westrom and Becknell are on display at the Arboretum and the University of Kentucky Singletary Center for the Arts as part of the annual Glories of the Garden exhibit. More than 100 art items inspired by nature, including quilts, hooked rugs, photographs and paintings by various artists, will be on display through March 21.

”Every flower is different, kind of like snowflakes,“ Becknell said recently. ”Most of them are from our imagination. We really can't compete with God too much.“

Becknell likes making large, dramatic flowers. Westrom favors smaller, more detailed pieces. But many of their flower sculptures are the result of a joint effort.

”You cannot tell who did what leaf, our minds work so identically,“ Westrom said.

Westrom, the state representative for Kentucky's 79th District, and Becknell, who is managing her mother's re-election campaign this year, had plenty of other things to keep them busy, including selling real estate and caring for ­Westrom's ailing mother, when they decided to concentrate on their artistic talent last year.

They had given one of their flowers to their hairdresser, who told them that everyone who came into her shop wanted it. One thing led to another, and eventually Westrom and Becknell's flowers were featured in a show from mid-November to mid-January at Level 3 Art in the Lexington Antique Gallery. A couple more Becknell-
Westrom gallery showings are in the works for this year.

”This little wonder here is the one who developed the medium,“ said Westrom as she hugged her daughter in the dining room of their home, where the two fashion their flowers.

When Becknell was creating sculptures as an art major at Georgetown College a few years ago, she found sculpting material to be expensive. Drywall mud became an inexpensive alternative after she took a summer job framing houses and noticed drywall hangers with big buckets of mud at the building sites.

”I figured out this is a very, very inexpensive way for me to build sculpture,“ she said.

She built 100 flowers out of drywall mud for a student art show at Georgetown College. Her portion of the exhibit was titled Lessons I Learned in My Mother's Garden.

”We've always gardened together,“ Westrom said.

When she helped her daughter carry the flower art into the college building where the show was being held, they had some unexpected company.

”Bees followed us in and tried to pollinate,“ Becknell said.

”It was like being kissed by God,“ Westrom said.

Westrom began to dabble in drywall mud flowers after finding herself overwhelmed by negatives in her life, including a faltering real estate market.

”Balance in my life is very, very important,“ she said. ”I realized I had ignored the artistic part of my soul.“

One day, she took a good look at one of her daughter's flowers and decided to add her own touches to it. ­Westrom repainted the flower, then took off the beads Becknell had used for decoration and replaced them with crystals.

”It just exploded off the wall,“ she said.

Westrom's first attempt at molding drywall mud resulted in something that looked more like a head of cabbage than a flower. Eventually, though, she became adept at transforming beastly drywall mud into something of beauty — to the point that it's difficult to discern her work from that of her formally trained daughter.

That first drywall mud sculpture now functions as a lowly doorstop, but her daughter cherishes it.

”It's priceless,“ Becknell said.

Now, Westrom said, ”I just can't think there's any artist out there that has as much fun as we do.“

Mother and daughter share a home filled with their flower sculptures, most of them adorned with Swarovski crystals. ­Donatello, a large purple blossom, figures prominently in the dining room. Cadillac, which has petals that form a starfish-like pattern and is painted iridescent pearl, is one of the first things in the living room that captures one's attention. An entire wall of another room is decorated with Westrom-Becknell flowers.

”This flower is called P.J. Cooksey,“ Westrom said, picking up a dainty pink-and-green blossom from the dining room table. Named for the famous female jockey, whom Westrom ­admires, the flower has three petals — one representing Cooksey's survival from breast cancer, another representing her comeback after being injured in a fall from a horse, and the third showing her current life. Many of Westrom's and Becknell's flowers have stories to go with them.

The two haven't limited their drywall-mud creations to flowers. They also make architectural-type pieces and three-dimensional logos. They make some items on commission, sometimes incorporating jewelry that the buyers already owned. The price range for their art items is $100 to $4,000.

Westrom would like for art to become a vocation for her and her daughter, she said.

”I want to see us have a gallery show in New York … Chicago.“