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.