Decorative and functional gourd artwork by Newport artist Louise Hemphill will be on display in “Gourd Play,” opening this Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Newport Visual Arts Center.

This Coastal Oregon Visual Artist Showcase will open with a public reception from 2 to 5 pm on Saturday, Dec. 7, featuring a talk from the artist at 4 pm.

“For me, gourds are a source of constant inspiration and artistic fulfillment,” Hemphill said. “The joyful play is in watching the gourd evolve and emerge in my hands from something plain to a beautiful work of art.”

Hemphill begins by carefully preparing the gourd — washing, scrubbing and cleaning it inside and out. After it dries and its natural colors are exposed, she sits with the prepared gourd in “meditation” until it speaks to her and the “play” begins.

“Sometimes the gourd calls me to weave threads into its already-interesting surface, adding beads or shells or precious stones for further ornamentation,” she said. “Other times, I paint designs onto its surface — Indian motifs and tribal patterns in turquoise and other vibrant colors, or floral designs or flowing shapes. Sometimes the pulse of the ocean comes through and wavelike designs emerge or I cut into the gourd and change its shape, creating more contrast.”

Once the gourds are cleaned, Hemphill coats the insides with layers of tissue paper or paper towel, and glue before applying several coats of acrylic paint followed by a clear, food-safe acrylic sealer.

A native Oregonian and long-time Nye Beach resident, Hemphill worked at an elementary school in Newport for more than 30 years. She had always been drawn to art but never had the time to fully explore the possibilities of creative expression until she retired in 1997. She apprenticed with potter Richard Cabral and studied watercolor with Joyce Gaffin.

In the early 2000s, she began experimenting with wood and wood carving. She became fascinated with the images that emerged as she whittled, and then in 2016 in Peoria, Oregon, she discovered gourds.

Gourd decoration is an ancient tradition in Africa and Asia as well as among the indigenous peoples of the Americas, notably the central highland people of Peru, and the indigenous nations of the American Southwest and British Columbia. A variety of gourd shapes and sizes yields an array of art pieces, including ornaments, bowls, sculpture, vases and wall art such as masks.

“Gourd Play,” hosted by the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts will run through January 25, available to view from noon to 4 pm, Tuesday through Saturday.

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