Note: If using Outlook click the above bar where it says “Click to download photos” The photos are the best part!
In This Issue: We are very excited to have with us Jim Widess, entrepreneur, author and an expert in caning, basketry and gourd crafting. His business, named The Caning Shop, has influenced generations of crafters during its 43 years of operation and in the gourd world, Jim's books have opened the door for many artists. He inspired us when we started with gourds and continues to do so.
In December it is our tradition to go back and re-visit some featured artits who have appeared in this newsletter. It is a bit like visiting old friends. First up is Marla Helton and Stu Fabe of Serendipity Gourds. This couple really impressed us with their energy and fine gourd art. Next a quick stop to see Sher III Feathers of Spirit of the Wind. Sher is a multi-media artist and her work is unique and beautiful.
We also have some mail and trivia ranging from gourd sightings to music. So make a hot cup of cocoa, cosy up and enjoy this last issue of 2012.
Jim Widess - The Extraordinary Talent On Gilman Street
A Little Background...
The Caning Shop, located in Berkley, CA, is known for its knowledgable staff, fine furniture restoration services and as a major supplier of gourd, caning and basketry supplies and craft books. At its helm is Jim Widess, a man who loves his work, his staff and most of all, his customers.
Jim has been in business since 1969, starting like many entrepreneurs in a shop in his garage. A year later he moved to a small store front and did cane and wicker furniture restoration. If a new skill was required, he figured it out.
Ten years later the building sold and The Caning Shop moved to their present location which was much larger. Jim expanded the business and began to sell caning supplies to the local market.
One day a fellow named Bruce Miller walked through the door and said that he wanted to write a book on caning because the available information was scanty. Jim and Bruce talked and Jim showed him some of the photos of restored furniture he had done over the years. It was decided on the spot that they would co-write the book together.
They sent 12 photographs and an outline to Van Nostrand Reinhold. Immediately a contract came back and The Caner's Handbook, which has sold over 75,000 copies and still sells 1500 to 2000 copies a year, was born.
In the late 80's, Jim noticed that some basketmakers were incorporating gourds into their work. What an art form! Jim added gourds and supplies to his already large product line and his newly scheduled gourd workshops were always full.
A Historic Meeting
In 1990 Jim attended Convergence (Handweavers Guild of America) in San Jose and this is where he first met Ginger Summit, a loom weaver in the Bay area. Little did they realize at the time that this was a historic meeting and that they would end up writing many books together.
Two years later, at the Handweaver's Convention in San Rafael, a mutual friend told Jim about a woman he knew who wanted to write a book on gourd art and crafting. This piqued Jim's interest and he
commented on how he would love to meet her. Within minutes Ginger Summit was standing in his booth and after a short conversation they agreed to co-author the book. Jim contacted Lark with the proposal and they got the contract.
What was amazing to Jim and Ginger when they did their first book was the variety of techniques they saw when they solicited hundreds of artists to send in photos and then pieces to photograph. Their goal was to have as many artists as possible showing what they do with the techniques Jim and Ginger wanted to describe. They didn't want it to be a single author/artist type of book.
Jim and Ginger are constantly pleased as the quality of the crafting matures and new techniques develop. In a nutshell you can do anything and everything with a gourd! Since this first book Ginger Summit and Jim Widess have co-authored many books including The Complete Book of Gourd Carving, Making Gourd Dolls and Spirit Figures and Making Musical Instruments. Their latest is Gourds + Fibres, an excellent reference and art book for weavers, basketmakers, jewelry makers and gourd crafters.
Jim has written numerous books on his own as well including Gourd Pyrography, Chair Caning and Make Hawaiian Musical Instruments.
Trends and The Economy
When asked about trends and the economy, Jim is quick to point out that the economy has been the biggest influence on his business. He states that in order to remain successful, businesses must modify the way they do things during rough times.
At The Caning Shop it wasn't that long ago that scheduled classes were the norm but when things got tough in CA, classes were not filling up. Now Jim has an open studio 3 afternoons a week where anyone can go and play with the materials and tools. Customers can learn on their own with Jim and his staff being available for consultation and questions about caning, basketry and gourd crafting.
As far as the craft market is concerned Jim believes it will continue to grow as long as the economy continues to brighten. As addictive and trendy texting, internet searches and computer games are, Jim thinks that our minds and bodies need the skills and creative exercises that doing crafts afford us. With so many jobs which require hours behind the computer people are looking for other outlets to feel in charge. Furthermore he reasons, if we can show others how much fun gourd work is, it's not an expensive hobby to invest in.
On A Personal Front
"I am married to a fantastic woman named Sher. For years Sher wanted to go to Hawaii but being a mountain guy I just couldn't imagine what I would do on a beach. Finally I realized that Sher deserved to go where she wanted to go so off we went. She found a coconut palm weaver to teach me basketry so I was happy and since that time we've been at least 14 times."
"Hawaii has been good to us. We have a 23 year old son Andy, because we went to Hawaii. And I've written four Hawaiian craft books to return the wonderful Aloha that Hawaii gave us."
"At home I spend time keeping our koi pond crystal clean. I am also learning to raise cymbidiums to keep Sher in flowers for her paintings and drawings. And I am a great reader, usually having 2 books on the go at the same time. When asked what my favorite book is I can't help but answer, 'My last book is my favorite!'"
Upcoming Shows and Festivals
The Caning Shop will be at the Wuetz Gourd Festival in Casa Grande, AZ February 1 - 3, 2013
In June 2013 they will be at the Valley Center Gourd Show outside of Escondido, CA.
CeCe Thomas represents The Caning Shop at the Gourd Festivals in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Alabama. The Caning Shop is also represented at the Pacific Northwest Gourd Show in Ellenburg, WA in July, 2013.
To learn more about The Caning Shop and to view its extensive catalogue click here:
If you ever get a chance to stop at The Caning Shop please do. It is fascinating just in itself. Make sure to look for the guy with the big smile - that will be Jim Widess all set to bring you into his wonderful world of crafting.
Thanks Jim, It has been a real pleasure. If we ever get to Berkley we will be sure to drop by. All the best in 2013.
Carolyn and Linda
Catching Up: Re-Visiting Old Friends
Marla Helton and Stu Fabe
Marla and Stu made an appearance in Issues 79 and 80; September and November respectively, 2011. When thinking about Marla and Stu the thing that comes to mind is their energy and entusiasm for life. Plus there is a real love story too (which we always like!)
Now an update:
Marla Helton and Stu Fabe of Serendipity Gourd Art have had a busy and exciting year. Together they had a full art show season with travels to IL, MO, OH and surrounding states. In addition to art shows and gallery showings, Stu has been busy weaving his beautiful sculptural pieces and Marla has been busy teaching around the country.
Together they are having their first ever Open House to herald in the Christmas season. Their beautiful studio will be the showcase of the work of Marla and Stu as well as a local potter. They will also have a gallery showing at the Strawn Art Gallery in Jacksonville IL the month of December.
Their work was featured in the new book by Marianne Barnes, New and Different Materials for Weaving and Coiling which came out this year.
Sher III Feathers
Sher is a mixed media artist who works with gourds,
stone, metal and feathers. Her work is fabulous and is always interesting.
I have had a wonderful year and was very busy exhibiting at many shows and festivals. I met so many fascinating people and created quite a buzz about gourds everywhere I went. At times it felt as though I were making, running, making and so on! Exhausting but fun.
I do have some new pieces up on my website but for the most part they don't make it that far...they are usually sold. Check it out and do keep in touch.
Sher III Feathers
To view the original Gourd Fever articles about Marla, Stu and Sher III Feathers click here:
To view Marla Helton's webpage click here:
And Stu Faber's....
Check out Sher's website too. It is very cool.
Season's Greetings Carolyn and Linda,
I have been saving this little gem of a gourd sighting so appropiate for December. I spotted these gourd ornaments when I visited Victoria this year. They were at The Original Christmas Village. This downtown business is an amazing place with two floors filled up with everything Christmas!
I am sure you will hear from me again in 2013 as I am a bit of a champion gourd spotter. Gourds draw me like a magnet; ask my husband...if there is a gourd around, I'll know it's there.
Bye for now, Antonella
Hi Antonella, Happy Holidays to you. Thanks for the gourd sighting. Love your blog...we are regular visitors.
Carolyn and Linda
PS We agree. You are a champion gourd spotter!
Antonella's blog: http://prettyhousethings.blogspot.ca//
Out of the Mailbag
Dear Northern Dipper,
Finally I am writing to thank you for all of your generous help. I am hoping it is not to late to wish you well at the "One of a Kind Show" in Toronto.
I love the gourds! I've just begun my winter work schedule...alternating painting and gourds. I'll keep you updated when I have some results.
Thanks once again, Lesley J.
PS This picture of the gourds (above) are from this year.
We would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and would like you know how much we have enjoyed your newsletter the past few years. Love the featured artists and the trivia. My kids like It's A Dog 's Life. Keep up the good work.
Sophia Rogers - Toronto, Ont.
PS I know you like lovely photographs - found this on the internet, thought you might like it.
LOOKING AHEAD: January 2013
It is a brand new year and to begin we are travelling to Hawaii to visit with Tamsen Lealohamakus Fox. Tamsen, a mixed media artist, has close ties with her ancient culture and this is reflected in her art. She works with ipu (gourds) art, watercolors, silk painting, metal art, feather art and acrylics. Her work is in galleries throughout the United States and we are very happy to feature her in the January issue of Gourd Fever.firstname.lastname@example.org
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the artists who have contributed to this newsletter the past year. It is an honor to be able to write their stories and experience their essence through their words and art.
We would also like to thank our readership and all of you who have shared stories and photos with us. The mailbag is a real treat for us as you can well imagine and it makes us smile when we think about how a hard shell gourd can bring so many like-minded people together.
We wish you all a peaceful holiday season and all the best in 2013. See you next year. Carolyn Cooper and Linda Bond
PS If you have any stories or ideas that you would like to contribute to this newsletter please send to
Volume 8, Number 93
In this issue:Jim Widess: The Extraordinary Talent On Gilman Street
Catching Up: Re-Visiting Old Friends
The Bulletin Board: News From Northern Dipper
Out of the Mailbag, Gourd Sightings & Trivia
The Bulletin Board
Originals - The Ottawa Christmas Craft Show
When: Dec 6 - 16, 2012
Where: CE Centre,
This is the last show of the year for Northern Dipper and
it is nice to end it at a great show like the Originals Christmas Craft Show.
There will be many vendors with lots to offer. It will be the perfect place to finish up your Christmas shopping.
Come see us in Booth 311.
For details click here:
"My father, a scientist, gave me one piece of advice that he might have regretted later:
'Do what you love and the money will take care of itself.' After 42 years, I still love what I am doing and am still waiting for the other to happen!"
"I received my BA in Geography from Cal (UC Berkley) in 1967. At the time
I was soon getting married and needed work so I got my elementary credential the following year. I then started
"At this time a friend's apartment became vacant. As a parting gift they left me a chair that wouldn't fit onto the truck. This chair had no seat so I put a board over the opening which worked well in a functional way."
"In 1968 The Whole Earth Catalog was being published and in one issue there was
an ad for materials for weaving chair seats, It was at this
time I realized that was the seat for my chair so I ordered some materials and from a small pamphlet proceeded
to weave the new seat."
"As it turned out I loved being able to think about things other than how I was going to entertain the kids in the classroom the next day. Plus the immediate feedback of 'Wow, you wove that? I
thought caning was a lost
art!' was nice too."
"I decided that I wanted to open a caning shop and quit the classroom. I finished my year teaching contract and began caning that summer."
"At the time The Caning Handbook was being published we met a Japanese basketry artist who was really amazing. There was no other talent like this in the Bay area."
"We began having an on-going Tuesday night class. Before long I realized that when I
did a mailing, it cost the same to schedule one class as it
did to schedule many. So we began to have basketry and caning classes at the shop as well and they were very well-received."
"I have seen many ebbs and flow of the craft market during my years in business. Basketry, for example, was really big in the 80's and early 90's and then interest waned."
"Gourds are still growing in popularity. There are so many things you can do with gourds and they present a canvas that is both earthy and alive."
"And just when I think I've seen everything, someone comes along with an entirely new
use or embellishment. What's truly awe inspiring to me is that humans have been interacting with gourds for thousands of years."
"I love talking to my customers. Berkley is an amazing city and everyone who walks into The Caning Shop, usually to drop off or pick up a chair, purchase
art materials, look at gourds for instruments or linen for bookbinding, is intelligent, creative, a thinker, philosopher, worldly and artistic. They've had a wealth of experience.
All love life!"
"Some of our customers are
in their late 80's and 90's
and they are busy and keep their minds active. All are young at heart and optimistic about the future. They are the most positive people you can imagine."
Creating Bottles with Gourds and Fibre by Jim Widess was published in 2011.
Advice For New Artists
"JUST DO IT!"
"Currently I think sanding gourds is my favorite technique. The shell of the gourd has such beautiful textures and patterns."
"But even a perfectly uniform colored gourd becomes a
jewel with dimension and reflection when sanded. I can't imagine the finest hardwood being anymore beautiful than a polished gourd."
"I don't mean just putting a finish on the gourd; sanding with finer and finer grit brings out a natural, chemical free polish that feels like glass yet has layers and layers that you can see into - it is like a reflecting pool of water."
Re-Visiting Old Friends
Stu and Marla
This has been a year of transition for the couple. They have decided to cut back on art shows and Stu is going to focus on gallery showings. Marla is going to focus on teaching gourd art throughout the US as well as teaching yoga which has been a long time passion for Marla!
Stu recently published a book featuring a collection of his photography.
It's A Dogs Life
"A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself." Josh Billings
The other day I was out
with my friend's 4 year old
son Ryan. We were walking Mickey and ran into Smith,
a dog Mickey plays with at the park. Of course the
first thing they did was greet
each other and Ryan could not believe that they were
smelling each others'...well you know... behind.
(It is actually the anal glands
which are full of fluid that
they are sniffing.)
I explained to Ryan that
with a sniff a dog can tell whether the other dog is a
boy or a girl, whether it is healthy, what their diet is
like and what kind of mood
the dog is in. When you think about it, it's pretty
Once dogs know each other they don't bother with
the formal sniff. They get on with it beginning with a charge and then a good run-about.
Music Pick of the Month
The Song: River
Israeli inventor Izhar Gafni
has been working on a cardboard bicycle prototype
for the past 2 years and now he is ready to head into production.
This bicyle is made entirely
of cardboard or recycled
parts and contains no metal.
It is strong enough to hold a 350 pound person.
It can be built with clean technologies and the best
part is it costs about $9.00
to produce and will sell for
about $20.00 retail.
Imagine the impact a bike like this could have in countries like India and Africa.
To learn more click here:
Victoria, BC, V8R 2Z7
PO Box 1145
5376 County Road 56
L0L 1L0, Canada