Archives for the month of: February, 2012

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.

I first learned about the provenance of serendipity when I was in my late thirties.  I’d just found out that the man who raised me was not my biological father.   My mother still insists that I knew the truth about my past,  and  it was my decision at six years old, never to speak of him again.  A few weeks after I met my biological father, a letter arrived in the mail from his sister that cleared up a thirty year old mystery for me.  When I was six, I had a huge collection of stuffed animals that mysteriously vanished from our house while I was at school one day.  In the letter, my aunt explained how she used to work at a department store, and every payday, she bought a stuffed animal for me.  I also learned that my stepfather officially adopted me when I was six, and the day the paperwork was final, everything about my past went into the dumpster.

I am also reminded more frequently now of the power of serendipity thanks to the 10 pound Shih Tzu who lives in my house.  We got a phone call last winter to apply for seasonal jobs at the local ski lodge.  We headed up the mountain on a Tuesday afternoon at 2:00 and as we rounded the corner, a half frozen Shih Tzu with a huge chunk of hair missing from the middle of her back sat shivering in a snow bank.  She was emaciated and matted, and we adopted her on the spot.  We also found out we’d gone the wrong way to the lodge.  There was absolutely no reason to be in that particular place on that particular day….except for the provenance of serendipity.

A few days ago, while I was working at one of part time jobs, I got a phone call from a woman I would never have had any reason to meet otherwise. Her name is Shirley Lucas, and she was one of a very famous pair of sisters who worked as stunt riders, trick riders and rodeo queens in the 1940’s to the 1960’s. They doubled for everyone from Lucille Ball and Betty Hutton to Lauren Bacall and Esther Williams.  Shirley is 88 years old now and has a new book out called IT TAKES  A GOOD HORSE.  The book is self published and in desperate need of wider distribution and acknowledgement, so I put her together with Bobbi Jean Bell, owner of Outwest Boutique and Marketing, because Bobbi used to work for the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum and is as in love with the Old West as I am.  In fact, I admitted to Shirley that I wanted to be a cowgirl when I was growing up so badly I could hardly see straight.

I was also surprised to learn she is not in the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, and has never been interviewed for a feature story by Cowboys and Indians Magazine.

This is the link to her website and the new book, and if anyone knows ANYONE who can help get this woman the recognition she deserves, then please, do whatever you can to make sure Shirley and Sharon Lucas are not forgotten. Because it seems to me that the path to this remarkable woman and our new friendship was meant to be.