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Eleuthera's Amazing Gourd Artist

By Teri M Bethel BEFORE leaving Nassau to teach a texture painting class in Eleuthera, I sat in BAIC's Handicraft Department looking at the amazing collection of Bahamian-made products. My eyes caught a glimpse of an unusual object that looked like a thin bowl. I knew if it were in this office chances were that it was something someone had created or harvested from one of the Bahama Islands. I was thrilled to find out that the bowl-like item was made from a gourd from a native calabash tree. When I arrived in Eleuthera several hours later, I inquired more about this remarkable gourd only to discover that front and centre of my class that evening was the island's very own gourd bag lady, Stephanie Pearce from Rock Sound. You can only imagine my excitement on meeting her. Mrs Pearce's gourd bags were an amazing work of art complete with a zippered closure and handles. As a child, Mrs. Pearce remembers her grandmother using the gourds as a dipper. I later found out though the gourds are not edible they have been used as storage, eating and decorative bowls for centuries. For those like me who had never seen one of the gourds before, they are a smooth surfaced, green ball-like shape of varying sizes that literally grow out of the trunk of this striking tropical tree. When aged they are an interesting tan color with a hard outer shell. So far there are two known calabash gourd trees on the island of Eleuthera on former plantation properties. The harvesting of the product is lengthy and requires the passion of someone like Mrs Pearce who appreciates the history of the gourd. Mrs Pearce has made it her business to preserve the gourds in her own unique way by creating custom-made handbags. Although some of the handbags are plain and varnished to bring out an unusually rich finish, others are embellished with paint. That is what brought Mrs Pearce to our texture painting class; the desire to create texture on her amazing creations. Now armed with new texture painting techniques, the gourd lady enhances her beautiful bags and creates fabulous texture-painted T-shirts. Her small investment of time and resources for the class has translated into new and bright avenues for her production. Many artists and crafters' bottom line is just to sell their products to who so ever will purchase them. Mrs Pearce is a little different in her outlook on selling her purses. "I want people who appreciate the history of the gourds and have a love for art to purchase my purses," she said. A gourd bag designer for some 15 years, Mrs Pearce said she believes that the texture painting class has given her a unique experience and the technical know-how to apply new techniques to her bags. About the Author: Teri M Bethel is a surface designer who specialises in teaching how to create textured painted fabrics & custom purses. Teri has been involved in manufacturing painted garments, handbags and souvenirs for over two decades. She is the designer of Teri Monique Handbags, a line of custom art purses for ladies. E-mail: Teri@PaintWithTexture.com or visit her at www.PaintWithTexture.com or Tel: 242-676-4474

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