I have always sought out unusual canvases for my paintings. Years ago, I discovered artist's fungus (Ganoderma applanatum) in the woods of upstate New York where we lived on an abandoned dairy farm turned community land trust. I worked on these unique natural forms for several years. Now I've managed to bring my passion for seeds together with my artistic bent, and turned my interest to the most ancient of human crops: gourds.
A couple of years ago we grew gourds on an arched trellis in our Santa Fe, New Mexico garden...
There is a legend which says that the mother of the human race was a gourd. One can imagine the little seed-people running out of the pregnant belly of the Mother Gourd to spread across the Earth. There is some evidence for the truth in this, as it appears that gourds were the first crop humans ever cultivated. Their usefulness as containers was so important to our ancestors that they were considered essential to life. A gourd can contain water, seeds, or even fire.
In 2012, my husband Steve took the position of farm manager for Native Seeds/SEARCH, a seed conservation agency. At the farm I discovered a barn full of old, unneeded gourds which couldn't be used for seed as they had cross-pollinated. I knew just what to do with them! I donated one of my finest large gourds to their fund-raiser in exchange for some of the gourds gathering dust in the barn, and set to work in earnest.
It took some time to learn to prepare the gourds for painting. Each one is covered with a waxy skin, serves well to repel moisture, including paint. To remove the skin, each gourd must be soaked for at least 24 hours, and then scraped carefully to remove every bit. Next the gourd must be coated with a layer of clear acrylic medium, which improves the adhesion of acrylic paint. After that the fun begins!
My studio in Patagonia, Arizona, with gourds in various stages.
At work in San Mateo, California, on a large Mayo Warty Bule gourd from Native Seeds/SEARCH.
This is one of the most challenging varieties to clean, and I had to use a dental pick to finish it. The work took a full day.
Tentatively beginning to paint on a large Tarahumara Canteen gourd. Each differently-shaped gourd variety reflects human selection for some cultural purpose.
This is a San Juan Dipper gourd, painted during a recent three-day period when Steve and I ran the booth for the Organic Seed Alliance at the International Heirloom Exposition put on by Baker Creek Seeds in Santa Rosa. I brought the gourds just to add interest to the booth and to give me something to do with my hands. It was a great success, as many folks stopped to see what I was doing and stayed to hear about OSA's important work in organic seed development. It turned out to be one of the most subtle and intricate pieces I've done. I call it Tattered Remnants of a Dream.
A detail of the above piece.
Three more varieties: Hopi Rattle, titled Fire Spiral; Peyote Ceremonial, titled Hearts Aflame and Maranka (an African gourd also called Dinosaur or Caveman's Club) titled Energy of Beginning.
While we were in Patagonia, a jaguar was seen near the NS/S farm. I imagined him snagging a wild turkey under the beautiful Arizona sycamores along the creek bed. Unfortunately I painted this before I understood the importance of applying a layer of acrylic medium before painting, and have found it is less durable than my later works, so it will remain with me, a memento of our time in SE Arizona.
With a bit of support, I love how these gourds can stand. Soon I will work on creating permanent bases made from sliced gourds. On the left is one of my favorite large pieces, painted on a Hernandez Dipper gourd. I call it Silver Lining. On the right is another angle of Tattered Remnants, shown above.
A close view of the bottom of a Hopi Rattle gourd entitled Life Rising from the Deep. Like the images, the titles are often drawn from my study of nature.
Pyroclastic is the tile of this work, done on a perfectly formedMayo Gooseneck gourd.
Here is how the recently finished Mayo Warty Bule came out. The shapes of the warts reminded me of nodules of semi-precious minerals. I'm calling it Gems of the Earth.
The same piece seen from the blossom end.
Here are a few of my pieces. I am hoping to find a gallery in Santa Fe and/or San Francisco where these can be well displayed. Meanwhile, they are available from me. The prices begin at $35. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, although I'm not actually in Santa Fe at the present.