Aug 19, 2010

Guest Artist Bonnie Gibson

Bonnie started working with gourds around 12 years ago. She stumbled on some painted gourds at an art show and the person making them had a few raw gourds she was willing to sell to her, she played with them and got excited about their possibilities very quickly. When she realized that they were wood like and could be manipulated in similar ways, she was hooked. She already had woodcarving tools on hand and it was an easy transition for her. Unlike wood, gourds don't have a grain, but are similar to carving woods such as tupelo, jelutong and basswood.

Bonnie took art all through Jr. High and High school and actually planned on majoring in art in college. She took one drawing class in college and the teacher discouraged her so much with his attitude that she switched majors and graduated with an unrelated degree. Her work was very realistic at the time and he told her what she was doing was not art and if she wanted to do that sort of thing, she should take photography instead.

After retiring from a brief sports medicine career and raising her children, she started back into doing arts and crafts for fun. She also had a cottage industry for 20 years where she built dollhouse miniatures. As time passed she found she was getting burnt out and stopped doing miniatures, that is when she got into gourds.

She has taught herself the basic techniques just by reading books, and over the years, she has tried everything from stained glass, scrimshaw, woodcarving to basketry, plus many other crafts! She also dabbled with art that is more traditional such as watercolors.

Much of this has come easy for her being good with her hands, being a perfectionist Bonnie works hard at what she does to perfect each gourd.

She carved duck decoys, small birds, and animal sculptures out of wood. The skills she learned from that made the transition to gourd carving pretty easy. She also loves Native American pottery, and the gourds were a perfect canvas for combining carving and Southwestern/Native designs.

She has always enjoyed seeing what artists are doing with other types of media, so in addition to being influenced by Native potters she also gets inspirations from ceramic artists, woodworkers, wood turners, leather workers, and beaders, etc. She developed some of her "signature" gourd carving techniques just from trying ideas that came from other types of art. These ideas were innovative as far as gourds are concerned, but lots of those techniques are used by artists in other media.

Like every other artist, she has to keep reinventing herself and adding new techniques and ideas to keep ahead of the copycats.

She says that she enjoys the carving a lot more than the painting, so most of her gourds are pretty heavy on the carving and lighter on the painting emphasis. For her really nice pieces, she will spend almost as much time researching the subject and designing as she does on the actual carving.
She strives to make things as accurate as possible; for example, if she is carving a particular animal she wants to portray it with the appropriate plants, trees, etc. surrounding it, and it must be anatomically correct.
She has lots of admiration for Les Namingha and Russell Sanchez (Native potters), Helen Hardin (Native painter) Robert Bateman and Carl Brender (wildlife artists) Bihn Pho (wood turner/carver) and Pat Godin (woodcarver) among many others.

She enjoys teaching others and feels it is very rewarding to get others excited about gourds and carving! However, the teaching takes time away from her art. Her heavy teaching schedule has become a bit frustrating because when she finds the time for her own work the motivation is not there, being a bit burned out on her teachings she has decided to back off on the classes a bit so she will have more time to create her own masterpieces.

Bonnie say’s “I would go crazy though if I didn't have a creative outlet of some sort. Even when I'm taking a break from gourds, I might be carving eggs, building something, or just gathering ideas for future projects. I get all itchy if I'm not doing something creative, it's a compulsion. When a full-blown idea hits me I am like a fanatic and I'll work on it every waking moment until it is done. Fortunately, my husband took over the cooking when he retired and he reminds me to quit now and then to eat dinner.”

Bonnie says she usually only works on one piece at a time –“I want to see it done!” However, sometimes she will have two projects going just because what she is working on requires drying time, “it's better to pick up something else during that time or else I would rush things that aren't really ready for the next step. I may get really into the second project and finish it before going back to the first one - it just depends on which one captures my interest the most."

When asked about awards and selling her art she said, “Your first major sale is always very exciting; it makes you feel good to know someone actually likes what you've done well enough to pay for it. However, the most exciting thing for me was just getting a gallery to accept my gourds in the first place - most galleries don't consider gourds as fine art.

I don't get too excited about awards they are so subjective. I know myself when something is good or not. I do enter things in competitions occasionally just because people that buy my work like to have the ribbons with the piece; I don't keep ribbons myself. Winning "stuff" is good though, I have won some monetary prizes and tools, and that was really nice!”

She says that she is always striving to move gourds into the fine art world. When most people think of gourds, they picture birdhouses and Santa’s. She is borrowing a page from some of the fine woodworkers/wood turners that she admires and is creating pieces that show well in art galleries. Her current work has a lot of detailed relief carving and intricate cutouts.

Bonnie says that if you want to learn how to do this “just jump in there and give it a try with simple tools you may already have on hand. Raw gourds are very inexpensive and beginners don't need to own a lot of special tools, so it's a great hobby for both adults and children. There are several good books on the subject and some instructors are beginning to produce videos as well. If you need to find a supplier of raw gourds or want additional information, you can visit the American Gourd Society webpage at This non-profit group has been around for a long time and has many active chapters across the US.”

Butterfly Filagree


Deer Horm Mask


Pins and Needles
Apples and Bluejay


Close-up View

If you would like to contact Bonnie here is her website:

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