"What a wonder life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner." Colette

Feb 27, 2017

My Egg

I’ve got this egg, and I’ve got this story. My Gourd Faberge Egg is the best of my Private Collection, and at the time I photographed the process with the intention of sharing my, “How-To,” instructions, which might interest some readers. No one can duplicate my work exactly, but hey, I’ve gotten ideas from the Masters…from da Vinci to Dewberry. I’ve procrastinated plenty, but sometimes I get a not-so-subtle kick in the como-se-llama and get moving.

I’ve been staying with a cousin in southern California as I recover from yet more RV repairs.  I haven’t seen Nancy since my first stateside gourd art show back in 2003, when she and my now-deceased Aunt drove down for support.  Held not-too-far from my current locale, I'd heard about the annual festival  through a diver-friend of a neighbor in Puerto Rico. 

I was a certified Artesana, a title which is awarded to artists who use materials indigenous to the island and incorporating the essence of Puerto Rican culture in their work. Wielding my certification I managed to secure enough sponsors to fly me and my bulky art from Puerto Rico to California. The diver and his wife opened their nearby home and helped me throw together a pretty decent exhibit with some of their furniture and a bit of creative decorating.

For reasons described farther below my Puerto Rican higüeras were a novelty in California, and I was both tickled to be interviewed (click to read) and flabbergasted to return to the island with not one but two awards in hand.  I can still remember the excitement I felt: imagining my career as an artist skyrocketing; particularly since the economy in Puerto Rico was tanking. 

Fast forward: So last week Nancy and I decided to take a pretty drive and head for the farm and their half-price sale.  What I never bargained for were the memories stirred up in the process; for once inside their little shop I came face to face with my Gourd Nemesis showcased in an acrylic box for all to see.

“You can run but you can’t hide,” Ego-Amy screamed inside my head.   “Just write the damn story like a journalist, leave suppositions to others and put the thing to rest.” Easier said than done, but here goes.

I was living on my trawler, Ruff Life, in the bay of la Parguera, Puerto Rico.  After that first show I mailed my entries, and for 3 years straight nailed First Place in the Painting Category, Advanced Division. I needed an entry for the June 2007 competition but had this panicky quandry of how to top myself. Ego Amy and I really wanted to win the elusive Best in Division to qualify for and perhaps even win Best in Show, especially since that year we'd be entering in person again.

An higüera is the Puerto Rican name for the fruit from the calabash tree. I gathered my own higüeras because they don’t grow in groves, but people often gave me bagfuls, just to clean up their yards.  Higüeras stink to high heaven after they fall to the ground and begin to rot. Full of seeds, you cannot eat them; but they are more commonly turned into ceremonial masks, musical instruments and tableware.

One day Sr. Vazquez handed me a beauty from his well-tended garden; about 12” tall and symmetrically shaped like a giant egg. I’d wanted to try to create a Faberge Egg for years but until then never found the right one.

My egg took about 6 months to dry naturally up on the flybridge. Once cut in half the gourd is scraped clean and sanded smooth, inside and out. Imagine a walnut shell the size of a watermelon.  

It was hard work but once smooth I was able to paint as intricately on the inside as the outside.  Vine-grown gourds found throughout the U.S. are much more porous on the inside.

The gourd is then marked for carving, which I will keep a trade secret in case I want to publish something FOR MONEY down the road.  As I scraped and sanded each piece I would imagine how I might paint the thing, but most times I never really planned.  In this case I started with gold on the outside, which was too much.  The inside was painted light blue.

I  added some navy and  fine decorative scrolls. 

Tiny paintings were added to the outside of each half. Here’s the progression of my Madonna with Child

and a snowy scene with Onion Domes.
Once painting was completed the egg was protected with several coats of gloss varnish before embellishing.

A small brass hinge was added to the bottom, along with 4 painted wooden ball ‘feet’ for stability. Throughout the process I taped this egg together between work to prevent any warping.
I glued decorative fabric trim along one edge, so that it overlapped the other edge when closed. Two holes were drilled in the top to string a cord to tie. It was exchanged for a gold tie before the competition.
The problem was how to prevent the two halves from flopping open too far.  The solution was to carve a smaller higüera into a birdcage. It sits upright inside the Egg on its own stand, and the cage itself acts as a counter-weight. 

A gourd scrap was carved into a 5” Bluebird of Happiness. and slipped inside the birdcage before I remembered to snap a photo.  Here's a different carving so you’ll get a better idea (r). Tie a bow and call it a day.

So did I win anything?  Yes, I did, but for the first time I shared First Place with another.  This beautifully carved and painted duck decoy bowl went on to win Best in Division. Created by a local couple, I recognized their names from advertisements posted throughout the grounds.  When I reserved my space I chose the budget route with no additional advertising, but I'd like to believe it wouldn't have made a difference.

While I scratched my head, choking down disappointment, the matron at the Society's table explained that sometimes they do split an award between two entries, and I would understand when I received my evaluation tag along with my Egg at the end of the two day event.

I did and I didn’t.  Let’s see…looks like my Egg had a perfect score of 50, but then two points were knocked off and then I tied with the Duck for First Place (they circled Third but gave me the Blue.) I was also awarded two Judge’s Awards, but Ego Amy was still pissed.

It is what it is, it’s taken me a decade to accept. But that was the last competition I entered, and the festival itself ended several years later for unknown reasons. So as I began, last week I walked into the shop and there was my Nemesis, or an impostor, front and center on display. What are the odds? Nancy steadied me while all I could mutter was,

“That’s that duck!  That’s that duck!”  The cashier smiled and asked if I had any questions, but I simply shook my head, No.  And where's my own prize winner?  In a bucket in storage, waiting for a good home.

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Original gourd art designs Copyright 2019 Andrea Jansen Designs. Please write for permission.