For the past decade or so, Gretchen Lee’s gourds have taken her from garden to gallery. They begin as seeds scooped from last year’s projects and end as works of art.
“It’s an organic process. That’s part of what I enjoy about using gourds I grow myself,” she says.
Lee grows many varieties that inspire her carved, painted creations, from small ornament gourds to impressively large bushel gourds. She enjoys knowing she can remove the seeds and save them for planting in the spring. She also knows that each variety’s shape will insprire something different.Seeing a “canteen gourd” can inspire her to create a purse – complete with hinges, a shoulder strap and intricately painted decorations.
If her aim is to create Christmas tree ornaments, she turns to her collection of ornament gourds and small brushes.
Small bottle gourds lend themselves nicely to vases and quasi-human figures, while larger ones are perfect for birdhouses. And when you slice them in half lengthwise, it’s easy to see why this variety is also known as the “dipper gourd,” Lee explained.
“I always seem to find just the right size and shape for what I want to do that day,” Lee said as she showed off her impressive collection of painted and carved gourds at the 2012 Sierra Art Trails venue in Oakhurst’s Burning Brush Gallery.
Like so many artists, Lee doesn’t work with only one medium. She also paints large murals, creates fine-art quilts and is an outstanding seamstress. In her spare time, she teaches others to paint, as well.
Lee earned her degree in art from California State University, Fresno in 1967. After the youngest of her four children started school, Lee shared her knowledge and skill by teaching art classes at Coarsegold School for the next five years.
Lee says she’s always been inspired by nature and her love of animals, “especially horses. I love horses!”
Working with gourds, as she’s done for the past decade, allows her to grow, sculpt and paint these completely natural products.
“I think we all have to take responsibility for taking care of our earth,” Lee says. “And whether it’s a painting or a carved gourd, I hope my art helps people appreciate the natural beauty around them even more.”
Even her aptly named work space at her home in Coarsegold reflects her appreciation of nature.
She enjoys looking at the different shapes, colors, mottling and veins found in rocks, she says, “So I painted all the walls in my studio to look like natural stone. That’s when I decided to call it Stone Cottage Studio,” she says.