Archives for posts with tag: gourd art

I used to be quite the guerilla marketer in the days before the internet and social media.  After selling a gourd for $20,000 several years ago, I approached anyone and everyone I could think of to carry a story on the sale.  I sent press releases to every newspaper and magazine under the sun, and press kits to everyone from Katie Couric to the Carol Duvall Show.  I discovered, days after it had been published, that the Wall Street Journal ran a small (and admittedly snarky) article on the sale, and several months after that, I received a letter from Carol Duvall, informing me that she wanted to do a segment on my work.  I was thrilled of course, but when her production team called to ask if they could interview me in July, in Palm Springs, for their fall season, I wasn’t quite as over the moon.

It’s 108 to 118 degrees in Palm Springs in the summer, but of course, I said yes.  I had to make four or five gourds in various stages of completion to make it look like I had created the work they focused on in one afternoon, and when the team finally showed up at my house, their equipment kept blowing the circuit breaker, so I had to turn off the air conditioning then act like it was as cool as a summer breeze on the Oregon coastline the rest of the day.  After all was said and done however, I think the production team did an outstanding job.

A few weeks ago, I started work on one of the first new gourds I have done in years.  I decided to photograph each stage of the process, then edited it to show how much work goes into creating a single piece of artwork.  I hope you enjoy the short video I did on it.

wolf handbagI’ve made no secret of the fact that the last few years have been pretty rough.  I’ve had my ups and downs just like anyone else, but I’ve discovered they were minor setbacks at best compared to some of the challenges I’ve faced since 2009.  As a result,  I’ve learned how much more resilient I am than would have ever imagined.  I am braver, wiser, and more resourceful than I thought possible,  and after putting aside my art career to focus on saving my house and protecting my health, I’ve emerged from the past few years with an inspired and reinvigorated approach to art and writing that has resulted in a return to the gourd art I am best known for, a renewed passion for handbags and decorative box design, and the unwavering belief that my best years are ahead of me.

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I have four back to back art shows starting at the end of September and continuing through the end of October, a feat I have never attempted before.  I was accepted into the Armonk Outdoor Art Show in Armonk, New York (September 28 and 29) which I have been applying to for years without avail, plus I will also be exhibiting at An Occasion for the Arts in Williamsburg, Virginia (October 5 and 6), and the Lake Eden Arts Festival in Black Mountain, North Carolina (October 17, 18, 19 and 20).  I was told that several artists have applied to the Lake Eden Arts Festival since its inception and have never been accepted, while I got in on  my first try, which I have to admit, feels really nice.

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I was also invited to exhibit at the Smithsonian Craft2Wear Show in Washington, DC (October 25, 26 and 27), and was asked to bring my new wine boxes since the Gallo wine family will be in attendance, plus I am hard at work creating a line of decorative boxes and one of a kind humidors for men that will debut at this event as well.

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Five years ago, I was the top selling gourd artist in the country, with the sales of several $10,000 and $15,000 gourds to my credit. I am still  the only gourd artist to sell a single piece of gourd art for $22,500, but I gave up gourd art entirely the past few years when I went from my best year ever to my worst year ever, between 2008 and 2009.  I honestly thought that gourd art was over for me, since I had a basement full of gourds no one wanted, but not long ago I picked up a gourd and decided to start experimenting again, and the reaction to my first new piece in years was overwhelming,  11,000 people saw the dragonfly gourd I posted on facebook, and I sold that new piece, along with another, significantly more expensive work, at the Tryon Arts Center as part of their outstanding 2013 sculpture exhibit within just a few weeks of one another.  I am working on several new pieces for the Williamsburg show and hope to start getting into galleries and larger art shows with them again as well.

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Just a few days ago, I received my copy of the Page a Day Handbag calendar for 2014.  The publisher contacted me via email last summer and asked me to send photos of recent work, four of which made it into the calendar.  In fact, my handbags are the only ones in the entire calendar on a color background, and I am one of three handbag designers with more than one image on exhibit.  Most of the bags are from private collections and museums, and a large majority are vintage.  I was asked to submit photos for the 2015 calendar as well.

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My screenplay, LUCKY 13, about the Women’s Air Service Pilots,  was turned down by all five screenplay competitions I entered, however. the best of those competitions, the Nicholls Fellowship (offered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), did say the script was among the top twenty percent of the over 7300 screenplay submissions they received.  So I did something that is generally frowned on in Hollywood; I sent copies of the script to Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, and included one of my best gourds in the submission to Steven Spielberg, who I understand is quite a fan of gourd art and artists.  It may never go anywhere, but you never know unless you try.

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Finally, I got tickets to The Daily Show in September, and am currently waiting for my confirmation to be a balloon handler again at this years Macy’s Parade.  I missed last years parade because of my broken ankle, but I promised my sponsor that if he could get me in again, I would come to the parade, even if I was on a stretcher!  And last, but by no means least, the 1969 Dodge Travco I have been working on for over 18 months is finally done and is currently on the auction block.  I taught myself about upholstery, laying carpet, and refinishing woodwork among a great many other things.  Check out the link on youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJNvYfHnBmU&feature=youtu.be/

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I am no great fan of mysteries.

Maybe it’s because I found out at 39 that the man who raised me was not my biological father,  and my entire life (for a period of time anyway) became one gigantic mystery.

Maybe it’s because I am really just not that bright.  It  took me six months to figure out that the married man who had invited me to paint a “mural” at his summer home in Sun Valley a few years ago, hadn’t shared the details of his plan with his wife.  My friend Daniel finally told me he was gay because he couldn’t believe that in all the years we knew each other, I kept asking why some lucky girl hadn’t snapped him up.  It takes me longer than most people to figure out the obvious, so you can imagine my complete surprise when I figured out within minutes after a screening of  THE CRYING GAME began, that the chick in the beauty parlor, was no chick.  I was even more shocked to realize that I was the only one in the theater who knew that.

Its taken more than a few years for me to come to grips with the fact that the life I used to have is not the life I have anymore.  Like many artists I kept holding on to the hope that the economy would change, that an old client or a former gallery owner would call, that I would get accepted into a major exhibition…that a miracle would happen so I could go back to what I love to do and what I am so good at.

Twenty years ago, I took a one day class from a set decorator in Santa Monica who made decorative gourds in her spare time.  I fell in love with the medium on the spot and dedicated myself to becoming the best gourd artist on the planet.  I had no idea what I was doing, and no one to turn to for guidance  or support.  The only other gourd artist I managed to find out anything about at the time was Robert Rivera, and  even though I will credit him with single-handedly creating a market for gourd art until the day I die, he’s no great fan of anyone he considers his competition, and I made no secret of the fact that I hoped to  leave him in the dust.

Being so naive about art in general, and gourds in particular, was an unexpected gift of the greatest magnitude.  Unlike artists today, who can find a wealth of information about gourd art online, and at gourd societies around the United States,  I taught myself everything I know about gourds, from how to work with a surface that is curved in two directions, to how to create and use gemstone inlay, to marketing and self promotion.   Because I was blissfully unaware of the “rules” I wasn’t afraid to try, and I wasn’t afraid to ask for what I wanted.  I thought art, unlike the film business, was deliciously non political, so I barreled into situations where more seasoned artists would have – and did – balk.

I still remember the time I contacted a gallery in Calistoga, California after reading about a call for entries in Art of the West Magazine.  The gallery owner was clear on the fact that, in her opinion, “gourds are a craft and we don’t accept crafts”.  I showed an equal amount of moxie  when I shot back, “Then you obviously haven’t seen MY work”.  I was not only accepted into the show, I exhibited in her gallery for many years afterward.

I dedicated over twenty years of my life to gourds, and I can honestly say that I was considered the best there was for a great many years.  There are a lot of amazing gourd artists these days, including Bill Colligen, Patricia Boyd, Mark and Karen Klay, Dave Sisk, Bonnie Gibson and Doug Fountain, but for awhile….I was the number one gourd artist in the nation.  Not many people can say they were number one at anything, but I was, and I am really REALLY proud of that distinction.  I am still the only gourd artist to sell a single piece of gourd art for $22,500 and I have had articles in the Wall Street Journal, Southwest Art, Cowboys and Indians and Art of the West on my work, as well as a segment on the Carol Duvall Show on HGTV.

Twelve years ago, I loaded up a six month old Pharaoh Hound and headed to Santa Fe for Indian Market.  I sold a gourd for $10,000 before I even got there.  We stayed at a series of Motel 6′s along the way, and I even bribed the desk clerk at the Motel 6 in Santa Fe with a pizza to babysit Rajha while I was at my opening.

I loved those days.  Walking into a gallery where people were waiting to greet you, where the art was professionally displayed, where the only thing that was required of you was to shake hands, talk about your work, and take pictures with the clients.  I got the chance to meet some of the best Native American, Wildlife and Cowboy artists on the planet, and even created and produced two art shows of my own (Reinventing the West at  the Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah, and Outlaw Artists at Fallbrook Fine Arts Center) featuring the incredible talents of artists like  Cliff Fragua, David Caricato, Bruce LaFountain, Carrie Fell, Thom Ross, Anne Embree, Lyn St Clair, Sherri Greves Neilson, Pati Stajcar, and Susan Guy.   It was an amazing time, and I still marvel at the memories I have of the people, the places, and the experiences I never expected to have.

Last weekend, I took the last of several dozen raw gourds I had to a gourd show in Eastern Tennessee.  The event was held across the street from the Bledsoe County Detention Center, a far cry from the galleries I used to show at  in Santa Fe and Delray Beach.  Classes were held in the exhibit hall at the Bledsoe County Fairgrounds where, I would imagine, jam and handmade quilts are center stage every summer.  I made $600 , and while its hard to imagine that it’s over, the most amazing and wonderful thing about this past weekend wasn’t that I finally took the hint that the world has changed and its time for me to move, on, that its time to let go of what used to be and open myself up to what comes next, it’s that I got the chance to end this experience the way I started.

I spent 12 years travelling the country with a skinny red Pharaoh Hound, who was my constant companion through everything I did on the road, and in the studio. I traded a client for him and to this day, I still think I got the better deal.  She will have the Egyptian themed gourd I did in exchange for him long after he is gone, but I will have the memory of this goofy, sleek, smart, funny, aloof, independent, difficult animal for the rest of my life.  If I heard “what kind of dog is that” once I’ve heard it a million times, in the same way  my nice Baptist neighbors heard me bellow “Goddamn it, Rajha, get OVER here” (thanks to his incredible tendency toward selective hearing ) at least once or twice a day every summer.

Being able to bring this journey full circle by taking my 12 and a half-year old  Pharaoh Hound with me to Crossville, Tennessee, to a Motel 6 (where I bought the desk clerk a pizza after getting my panties in a knot about my reservation) is easily one of the best weekends of my entire life.  I don’t know how much longer I will have this amazing boy, and while it won’t be easy to let him go when the time comes, the fact that I got to end this journey with him, the way it began, made taking the hint, and letting go of who I used to be, sweeter than I would have ever imagined.

When I started my art career twenty years ago, gourds were my choice of medium.  I took a class in Santa Monica from a woman who created gourd art on the side, when she wasn’t working as a prop artist in Hollywood.  I came away from that one day class filled with such an intense passion for gourd art that I decided, right then and there, that I wanted to become the best gourd artist on the planet.  I had no idea how I was going to get there, I just knew that for once in my life, this drive I have to be the best at something might actually have a shot at coming true.  I encountered plenty of obstacles along the way of course, not the least of which was my own naiveté about art.  I had no idea how to get into galleries, how to do an art show, how to even find out to apply for an art show.  I was blissfully unaware of the politics of art, declaring to my boyfriend at the time that I loved art BECAUSE it was so “non political”.

Through a series of events that lead me from a holiday art show in a friend’s garage to my first real art show at the Pasadena Civic Center, I tackled art with the passion of  a religious convert.  I followed up on every art show lead I could find, challenged gallery owners who deemed gourd art a “craft”, and went after the goal of becoming the number one gourd artist in the country as if my life depended on it.  Robert Rivera, who I credit with singlehandedly opening the door to gourds as an art form, was my guidepost for what to do and how to go about achieving it.  Everyone who told me that gourds would never be taken seriously as an art form along the way, unwittingly added fuel to the fire of my unwavering determination, until the day I sold my first piece of gourd art for $20,000.

I still remember standing in line at the bank with the check clutched in my hands so tightly that if an earthquake had hit about then, I would have been found in the rubble, still holding onto it, and probably wouldn’t have let go to grab onto a rescuer.  When I stepped up to the counter to cash it, I had to fight from bursting into tears, and the sense of relief and accomplishment as I walked away from the teller window was overwhelming.  I couldn’t WAIT to tell all those naysayers that they were wrong about gourds as an art form.

I gave up gourd art a few years ago to tackle a new medium and a new way of expressing my artistic talents.  I wanted to create art that wasn’t something you left at home.  I reasoned that since people don’t buy jewelry, or a new outfit, or even a set of golf clubs just to leave them at home, why should art be something that gets left behind every time you leave the house?

Since I consider wood burning my true forte, I settled on wood handbags as the new direction my career would take.  By combining wood burning,  hand painting, and an attention to detail with respect to the linings, the hardware and the fixtures, I could create functional art that would make the women who owned them, stand out in a crowd.  My success at selling these new handbags was instantaneous; I got into every show I applied for, and even some I thought I would never be able to exhibit at, like the Smithsonian Craft Show and the Sausalito Art Festival.

But then the economy tanked and the prevailing wisdom among handbag buyers and art show producers was that my work was too “niche”, that women, especially wealthy women, would always buy expensive handbags, but they wanted them to be handbags other women would recognize as expensive.  And presumably, exclusive.  I still can’t quite get over standing in front of a panel of judges at my audition for Project Accessory and being told that my one of a kind, handmade, exclusive and very expensive handbags were NOT on the same level as a Birkin Bag, which is also one of a kind, handmade, exclusive and very expensive, but that hardly stopped me from continuing to believe that one day, my bags will be as sought after as those bags are.

A few weeks ago, Pam Eggemeyer, who owns Spirits in the Wind Gallery in Golden, Colorado,  challenged me to create  a handbag based on the design legacy of Yves Saint Laurent, after the Denver Art Museum decided to mount a 40 year retrospective of his work.  I began researching his design ethic and settled on an idea I felt I could really make my own. The handbag itself was easy, but since I ordinarily line each handbag with a matching fabric, I decided I had to pull a rabbit out of a hat to make sure this new bag was a show stopper. I found a way to print original designs on fabric, and had a yard of fabric made from the images on the handbag to line it with.  It has a matching clutch and a matching handmade storage bag, along with a  handbeaded  handle.

I am far from where I want to be with this new venture thanks to preconceived notions about wood handbags, but I know myself well enough to know that telling me it can’t be done is a surefire way to make sure I accomplish my objectives.

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