Russ Faxon and Catrin Westh have fun together―even if they’re just going to the junkyard or to the hardware store.
Russ Faxon and Catrin Westh have fun together―even if they’re just going to the junkyard or to the hardware store (which they dub “the candy store.”)
“Life is what you make it,” said Westh.
“Life should be fun,” said Faxon.
Sitting in Faxon’s studio in Bell Buckle on a chilly December afternoon, a wood stove burning hot nearby, and surrounded by their artwork―Faxon’s bronze sculptures and Westh’s colorful paintings―the two seem to have known each other forever.
“Your statues are different. You have one part that is very traditional...” Westh says to Faxon. “He can do whatever you ask him to do; it will look exactly how you want it. Then you have the part of the tree people, where you have the emotions coming out. Then it’s less about the skill and more about how you feel.”
Many may be familiar with Faxon’s work. For example, he completed the Veteran’s Memorial statues located in front of the Bedford County Courthouse. He also completed the Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff sculptures at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville; Gov. Ned McWherter in Dresden; and the Korean War Memorial for the State of Tennessee at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville―just to name a few.
And as for his “tree people,” well, let’s just say they look just like they sound. Faxon explained he’s fortunate to have so many commissions. But making them for other people drives out his time to make art and display them for himself.
So, he knew it was time to officially open his studio.
Faxon and Westh have known each other for 6 years. And together, along with Westh’s husband Pierre, they have turned Faxon’s historic home and studio into Russ Faxon Sculpture Studio and Fine Art Gallery, which had a grand opening Saturday to display works like Faxon’s tree people as well as Westh’s paintings.
The antebellum building required, to say the least, a lot of work. But it’s helpful to have fellow artists available to help paint and decorate. Even with a hole in the floor, Westh initially asked Faxon during the remodeling if he wanted to put in sputnik lights and blue velvet furniture.
“Cat has been an inspiration, motivation, and encourager. She has tremendous vision to see what something will look like,” Faxon said.
“To be perfectly honest, I had a natural kind of ability,” Faxon recalled. While in junior high, Faxon’s art teacher asked, ‘Have you thought about making this a profession?’
At the time, Faxon joked he was thinking of two things: girls and basketball. His teacher suggested something like architecture. But when Faxon got into modeling with clay and plaster while in high school, he knew this was it.
“I’m not making an illusion. I’m making a reality you can see from all sides,” Faxon said.
He went to college on a football scholarship. Not wanting to further damage his body, he concentrated on sculpture instead of tackles. While studying at Western Kentucky University, Faxon was instructed in sculpture by Charles Forrester. Some of Forrester’s own pieces can be seen at Faxon’s gallery today.
After graduating, Faxon taught junior high in Nashville―something he said he wasn’t prepared for.
But his ultimate dream: learn how to cast elongated pieces and study in Italy. With the help of international artist Bruno Lucchesi, Faxon made the move Italy for six months where he studied at the Mariani Foundry in Pietrasanta.
Coming back to the states, Faxon loaded his sculptures into the back of his car and began his search for gallery showings through the phone books, making phone calls and knocking on doors from state to state.
He eventually found one of his pieces in the front window of renowned Philadelphia interior designer Dorothy Lerner. It was sold within 2 weeks.
“I’ve been doing it ever since,” said Faxon.
Faxon ended up in Bell Buckle while doing a sculpture show at the Opryland Hotel, hosted by Webb School teacher Carol Price. When she asked him to do an artist-in-residence, Faxon agreed. He was introduced to Jack Heffner, and Faxon became the resident sculptor at Webb for the next year.
And upon traveling to Bell Buckle, he came across a spacious, two-storied building, located right off Highway 269. He bought it at auction―despite lack of modern plumbing and electricity.
“As long as I had a place to work, that’s all the mattered,” Faxon said.
Art as a conversation
Faxon has lived and worked in his studio for nearly 40 years now.
He said he opened the gallery to expand people’s access and interpretation of art as a whole.
That’s why he originally named his place Selah Studio. In the Bible, “selah” means “pause and reflect deeply.”
“We want to be able to let people know that art has a message, and that art is a dialogue,” Faxon said. “This is what we’re trying to do with the gallery―the expression of art to flourish.”
“And to be liberating,” added Westh. For them, their artwork has a story.
Like surrealist painter Salvador Dahli, what you see is more than a sunset or a flower. There’s also a mix of perfection and imperfection which is made for discussion.
“It’s a place for people to come and experience out-of-the-box thinking,” Faxon explained.
So, his advice? It’s the same advice Forrester gave Faxon when he was just a student: think through a project, from the initial drawing to the installation. It helps anticipate problems. Creativity sparks creativity. Start with a crooked mark on a piece of paper.
“When you set a goal, don’t set a goal of mediocrity...We all need to try to improve,” Faxon said. By striving to continually grow mentally and artistically, people can help improve society, one piece at a time.
Faxon’s gallery is located at 104 Bell Buckle-Wartrace Road. It’s open Thursday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. by appointment. Faxon asks for visitors to ring the doorbell.