"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, sounds so nice, and I photographed the process with the intention of sharing my How-To instructions one day; which might interest some artists.  No one can duplicate my work exactly, but hey, I’ve gotten ideas from the Masters…from Leonardo da Vinci to Donna Dewberry. I procrastinate plenty, but sometimes I get a not-so-subtle kick in the como-se-llama and get moving, which is what happened not long ago.

I’m staying with a cousin in southern California as I recover from more RV repairs.  I haven’t seen Nancy since my first stateside gourd art show back in 2003, held at the Welburn Gourd Farm in Fallbrook; when she and my now-deceased Aunt drove up for support. I'd heard about the annual festival, the most popular for gourd art, through a diver-friend of a neighbor in Puerto Rico.

I was a certified Artesana; a title jury-awarded by the Puerto Rico government to artists who use materials indigenous to the island and incorporating the essence of the island's rich cultural heritage in their work. Wielding my certification I managed to secure enough sponsors to fly me and my bulky art from Puerto Rico to California.

Sheldon the diver and his wife Sally generously opened their nearby home and helped me throw together a pretty decent exhibit with some of their furniture and a bit of creative decorating; they even loaned me a canopy.

For reasons described farther below my Puerto Rican higüeras were a novelty in California, and I was tickled to be interviewed by a trade magazine (click to read) and flabbergasted to return to the island with not one but two awards in hand. (My painted Octopus on a hunk of coral, below, a gourd which shriveled while drying, is a personal favorite.)

Denise Myers, an artist in the top tier of the emerging world of gourds as a credible art form, waved an encouraging thumbs up as she passed my booth. One of her pieces was the Grand Prize of a drawing (not pictured), on display near the entrance to the festival.  It was all such fun, and I can still remember my excitement anticipating 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 Welburn farm and their half-price sale. What I never bargained for were the memories stirred up in the process; for once inside their little gift 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,
 my alter ego, who I've named 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, beginning in 1998.  After that first show I mailed my entries to the festival, and for 3 years straight had nailed First Place in the Painting Category, Advanced Division.

I needed an entry for the June 2007 competition but had the quandary of how to top myself.  I really wanted to win the elusive Best in Division to qualify for and perhaps even win Best in Show, especially since that year I was attending in person and would even be a judge for the competition, not in my own division.

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

One day my friend Sr. Samuel 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 had never found the perfect shape.

My egg took about 6 months to dry naturally up on Ruff Life's fly-bridge. 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 almost as intricately on the inside as the outside.  Vine-grown gourds found throughout the U.S. are much more porous on the inside and makes fine detail work, my specialty, almost impossible.

The gourd is marked for carving, then carved and shaped using a rotary tool.  Whenever I scraped and sanded gourds 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 gaudy.  The inside I painted light blue.  My preferred brand of acrylics is JoSonja.
I  added some navy and  fine decorative scrolls. 

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

On the opposite side, a snowy scene with Onion Domes.

Once painting was completed the egg was protected with several coats of 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 the halves together. I exchanged it for a nice gold cord in California 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. Anxious to see how it looked inside the cage, I lost my grip, it slipped between the bars, and settled perfectly before I remembered to snap a picture. Here's a different carving so you can get a better idea (r).

So did I win anything?  Yes, I did, but for the first time I shared First Place with another.  This nicely carved and painted duck decoy bowl (r) went on to win Best in DivisionI recognized the artist's names from advertisements posted throughout the grounds.

When I reserved my space I chose the budget package with no additional advertising, but I like to believe it wouldn't have made a difference.  After all, the festival may have been held at the Welburn farm, but the competition was sponsored by the California Gourd Society (CGS).

When I learned the results, I scratched my head and choked down disappointment while the matron at the CGS table explained that sometimes they do split a first place award; and that 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…my Egg had a perfect score of 50, but then two points were knocked off and then I tied for First Place with the Duck? (They circled Third Place, from all the confusion, no doubt; but gave me the Blue.) I was also awarded two Judge’s Awards, but still, Amy was pissed.

It is what it is
, it’s taken a decade to accept. The annual festival ended some years later, so I'm glad I was able to participate when I did.

I told this story to Nance as we drove to Fallbrook.  I forgot to mention earlier that during the 2003 show, when Nancy and Aunt B stopped to admire Denise Myer's gourd prize for the drawing, Nancy encouraged her Mom to enter, insisting, "We'll win."

And wouldn't you know it, they did, after the first name drawn could not be reached.  Shows you what a little confidence can do.

So last week I walked into the shop at Welburn with Nancy and there was my Nemesis, or a damned good impostor, front and center on display in an acrylic box. What are the odds? Nancy steadied me while all I could mutter was,

“That’s that duck!  That’s that duck!”

With the late Doug Welburn
The cashier smiled and asked if I had any questions, but I simply shook my head, No.  

And what about my own prize winner? It's in a bucket in storage, waiting for a good home.  At least I've purged my angst.

For more stories of life in the Caribbean, enjoy Ruff Life at Sea, thank you.

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Original gourd art designs Copyright 2020 Andrea Jansen Designs. Please write for permission.



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