Beth Peart: The Bead and The Calabash
"Blessed are the weird people - poets, misfits, writers, mystics...painters and troubadours - for they teach us to see the world through different eyes." Jacob Nordby
Beth Peart has admired gourd art for quite some time but it has only been the past 8 years that she began to make things from them herself. It was also 8 years ago that Beth became a convert to the traditional African religion of Ifá-Òrìṣà (Ifa-Orisha). This conversion opened doors that Beth had not anticipated including a new incarnation as a bead and calabash artist.
Culturally African calabashes (gourds) are very important and are used as vessels, bowls, musical instruments, medicine bottles, and in some cases, as the base for power-inbued headwear. All the gourd/calabash objects Beth has made have been in an Afro-Cuban or Afro-Brazilian style. As a result of the transatlantic slave trade, both cultures have strong ties with Ifá-Òrìṣà, which originates in Nigeria and the Benin Republic. (Dahomey)
Beth's approach to design is best described as eclectic. She is a collector of African art, particularly Yoruba sculpture, masks, beadwork and textiles. In addition Beth has a strong foundation in European and North American art and design with particular interest in those works from pre-history to the turn of the 20th century.
When asked what inspires Beth in her art she explained that she starts from the position that there is a creative power in the universe called Àṣẹ (Ashe/Ashay). Àṣẹ is the power to manifest and is the generative and regenerative force in all things. Everything that has been created or will be created has Àṣẹ. Beth believes that all artists have strong Àṣẹ and the things they make have their own.
The great and usually nameless masters of traditional African bead work are studied by Beth along with the designs of Cuban, American and Brazilian makers of beaded objects and regalia, including those who use gourds in their art.
She states that some of the work out there is a mind-boggling phenomenon in complexity and colour and she really strives to emulate those masterworks. Smiling she says that she doesn't think she's there yet but in the end that is and will be her journey.
Beth thinks of herself as primarily a milliner and what she does is limited by the form and size of the headwear. She is self-taught and over time her technique has become more complex and accomplished. She knows of no other high-end bead artists working in the same cultural-religious context in Canada though she is reasonably certain some are out there.
Other bead artists in the culture tell Beth that she has a distinct style; it is true, Beth's work is readily recognizable. It rides the stylistic boundaries between the different denominations in African traditional religion - indigenous and diasporic, sometimes with a contemporary twist or a nod to Canada's native traditions.
A crown takes Beth on average 40 hours to complete. It is all hand-stitched; even the beaded gourds are hand-stitched. It is very labour intensive and most of her art is commission work. Beth has not exhibited at a show for 5 years now and even then it was as a part of a group, not a solo show.
Beth wants her work to provoke a discussion on who 'owns' culture or a specific culture. She wants it to be unifying in the end. The denominations of her chosen faith group are at war at the moment over the differences, while neglecting our commonalities. Beth's goal is to promote peace.
Her art provokes a lot of chatter, sometimes negative, particularly among African and African American people. Beth states she is neither, yet she work with an idiom that some consider 'theirs'. That it is good work has bothered some people even more. One person even tried to call down all the spirits to kill Beth, but as you can see, she is still here.
On the other hand there are many more Africans and African descendants who love what she does and are utterly supportive. They absolutely outnumber her detractors. What her teachers have taught, and her own view is, that her work is a form of worship in a culture and religion that accepts all people as unique children of the Creator. Beth states, "I am me, my Creator loves me. That's enough."
Beth looks forward to a time when she can actually sit and observe a traditional bead master. She would like to visit Nigeria and the Benin Republic and also visit and observe calabash carvers at work in either nation.
In her spare time she is struggling to learn Spanish. She says she knows enough to get into trouble but not enough to get out of it! She finishes by saying that she lives a rather normal life, working as a temp school secretary during the day and sharing a home with her husband and four cats at night.
To view more of Beth's art click here:
"Learning To Sculpt" Workshop
We are pleased to host two sculpting workshops with instructor Leslie Baily. Learn to sculpt a woodland elf while incorporating a gourd or sign up for the wing workshop...It is very popular as wings can be used with fairies, butterflies; whatever your heart desires.
Just Wingin' It
Instructor: Lesley Bailey
Date: Friday, September 18 Cost: $75.00
In this workshop we will explore various mediums to create 3 unique pairs of a beautiful fairy or angel wings. The finished wings will be applicable on various types of figures, whether soft sculpture, polymer sculpture or other crafts. All materials will be supplied.
Sculpting A Woodland Elf
Instructor: Leslie Bailey
Saturday & Sunday, September 19 & 20
This is a two-day workshop where students will learn the Lesley Bailey technique to sculpt and build a woodland elf. This workshop is for all skill levels. It is a great introduction to sculpting in polymer clay and can be very beneficial to those with previous sculpting experience.
Day one will be spent learning step by step techniques to sculpting a male head, hands and feet, all in polymer clay.
Day two will be spent assembling your elf on a wire armature. You will learn painting, adding hair and some basic costuming to complete your elf.
All materials are supplied. Students are required to bring a metal knitting needle and a stylus for sculpting with and any other sculpting tools if they have some, however the knitting needles and stylus is all that is required.
There will be sculpting tools and clay for sale for your future dolls should you be interested. You may bring small bits of fabric and/or trim on day 2 if you wish; however a selection will be provided as part of the class.
The Gourd Gardener: Q & A...
1.) My gourd vines are so long and thick and it doesn't look like I have many gourds. They are ground grown. Should I be shortening the vines? Patricia D
Hi Patricia, As an ex-commercial grower we always use to prune our vines in July. Once they get really thick it becomes more difficult as you can't tell the lead from the lateral. Never mind...just find the ends and cut. Regarding the gourds you may just be surprised as to how many there will be growing under that tangle of vine! Good luck, Carolyn
2.) It looks as though I have lots of gourds but some are turning brown and falling off. I am a first-time grower and it distresses me to see this. What am I doing wrong? John Warner
Hi John, These small brown gourds that are falling off are gourds that have not been pollinated. The only thing you could have possibly done is get out there in the evening and hand-pollinate using a paint brush. Regarding your distress...believe me I know the feeling! Carolyn
TIP: If your large ground grown gourds are growing on their side make sure you go through and turn them up on their bottoms. If you do not do this you will end up with a flat-sided gourd.
Out Of The Mailbag
Merlyn Purvis is one feisty lady. She does all sorts of art work and has recently developed an interest in gourds. I hope she will join us one day for a workshop. Following is a letter from her son Brian.
Dear Carolyn, Thank you for all the attention you gave my Mom on Saturday. She really enjoyed her visit and there's no doubt that we will be visiting you again. The cleaning activities are already underway and one of these days I should be able to send you a pic of her latest creation.
Kind regards, Brian
Hello Northern Dipper,
Here are a couple of pictures of before and after. The students loved this gourd project. Our sale is next Thursday...we will be donating to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Organization. We have generated a lot of interest and next year another teacher or two may visit you!
Thank you, Nancy Mallette
PS We made $714.00 through the auction. How awesome is that!!!
Thank you Nancy for sending these in. These children look really proud of themselves. I see some incredible birdhouses, feeders and bowls and the extra bonus is the art of generosity in the end. All the best, Carolyn
Looking Ahead: September 2015
We are thrilled to be featuring our old friend Susan Levesque to the pages of Gourd Fever. Susan is an Ontario artist who can often be found canoeing down a waterway with hopes of seeing wildlife in their natural habitat. The images, blazed in her memory, are then transferred to the hard shell gourd in detailed perfection. Susan also works with geometric designs and more.
We will have more workshops listed this month and they will be geared to both beginners and experienced gourd artists. In the above photo is Doug who is a budding gourd artist. His excitement is enough to fill a room and we are delighted to know him. Don't forget to sign up for Leslie Bailey's sculpting workshops on September 18 - 20. We suspect that they will fill fast so make sure you have a seat.
We will be heading into fall so will have our final report from The Gourd Gardener. It will be all about the harvest and drying. Until that time take it easy everyone....
Carolyn Cooper and Linda Bond