In spite of the stress of working at a nursing home during a pandemic, or perhaps inspired by it, Shirley Duerst, activity coordinator for Four Winds Manor, received a statewide art award on June 27.

The juried art exhibition for the State Exhibit Award at the Wisconsin Regional Art Program conference, is co-sponsored by the Wisconsin Regional Artists Association and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Liberal Studies and the Arts.

Duerst, who has planned activities for residents of Four Winds for 36 years, said she is nearly entirely self-trained as an artist.

She works across several mediums including beads, resin, jewelry and watercolor. She said she “goes back on forth” on which is her favorite, and sometimes combines several of the mediums together such as layering resin on top of a photographic reproduction of one of her watercolor paintings to make a drink coaster.

For both beadwork and watercolor painting, Duerst learned from watching YouTube videos. For beading, she also learned how to make necklaces and jewelry by reading books. For painting, she also took a class at Peg Ginsberg’s Watercolor Studio in Mount Horeb and a drawing class through Madison Area Technical College. She also belonged to a Facebook group where members drew a picture every day, which she did for about a year.

“I love making things, there’s never a dull moment here,” she said. “I have multiple projects going at once. Now I’m crocheting, for gosh sakes. I have always been an overachiever.”

While Duerst began as a hobbyist, she became a bit more serious about her art after joining the South Central Wisconsin organization 14 South Artists, which aims to promote art in the smaller communities and rural areas of the region. The group introduced her to the world art fairs and juried shows.

Her submission to the WRAP conference was a two-part process — beads were placed in small molds and a clear resin was poured into the molds over the beads. The finished pieces were then placed in larger molds, followed by a second resin pour.

Duerst said her intention was a contrast of shapes between the first and final pours. She decided to place fishing spinners and a hook so the piece could be hung.

“With resin, what inspires me is seeing what kind of 3Dshape I can get,” Durest said. “You can make something beautiful, exotic, interesting.”

She has been experimenting with the resin and mold process, using pans, dishes, bottle caps, jars and other assorted vessels to drape layers of the pliable resin.

“They came out looking really cool, I was excited to make these and show them in art shows,” she said.

By WRAP choosing her piece, it has gone onto the next level of competition. While in pre-pandemic times, the piece would have been displayed at the Pyle Center at UW-Madison for a month, now Duert’s piece, “Beads Spin Round and Round” will only be seen virtually.

“This piece was made to spin. It can be hung in a window or outside,” she said.

Duerst has taught art classes at JNJ Craftworks and said owner Jerina Vincent has pushed her to try things artistically she hadn’t tried before and she’s also done some teaching for the Oregon School District. She also taught some jewelry classes at Four Winds after some residents liked her handmade adornments she wore to work, though she calls teaching “kind of nerve wracking.”

Even so, she has bought a camera and is creating videos for YouTube. She said her mom Darlene is one of her biggest inspirations.

“When I was young my mom would always sew and do embroidery,” Duerst said.

That, in turn, got her interested in a 4-H Club that taught home interior classes.

“I guess I have always been interested in making, creating, doing – but you can’t make a lot of money – so I have always been doing it on the sidelines.”

JNJ Craftworks is the only store she sells her art at, which stocks her watercolor paintings, cards, magnets, jewelry and some resin work. She said her one “claim to fame” is that Judy Faulkner, CEO of Epic Systems, bought some of her jewelry at the Agora Art Fair in Fitchburg a few years ago.

Besides for her mom, she is thankful to her husband who has been supportive, giving her the ability to do her artwork.

“A happy wife is a happy life,” Duerst said.

Neal Patten, community reporter, can be contacted at