Gourds serve as canvas for Montevallo artist’s creations
Story and photos by Laura Brookhart
“If I tell people that I am a gourd artist, they envision painted Santa Claus ornaments or pom-pom gourds,” Becky Cox-Rodgers says. She smiles as she confesses to avoiding the raised eyebrows that may otherwise ensue, so she simply calls herself an artist.
Cox-Rodgers is a skilled illustrator who draws well, patiently losing herself in applied detail added with a wood burning tool or chip-carving tool. Some of her larger gourd sculptures may involve up to 40 hours of hands-on work by completion.
Born in Maine and raised in Florida, Cox-Rodgers arrived in Montevallo as a student at the University of Montevallo active in sports while earning a bachelor’s degree in commercial art and photography.
With her preference for personal curiosities and motifs such as gargoyles and images of Moundville intertwining snakes, Cox-Rodgers has established herself as a fine artist who just happens to use gourds for her canvas.
“It is about complementing the organic form, first and foremost, then coloring in the surface design with paint and sometimes highlighting with Liquid Leaf gold,” she said.
Cox-Rodgers also manages Falcon Art Supply in Montevallo and says she has experimented with the application on the minimally grained gourd surface of most every ink and paint product the store sells.
She is vice-president of ALGS (Alabama Central Gourd Society) and also started the local Gourd Patch Society, which has about 18 members, including Teresa Wamble, another well-known (gourd) artist.
“The shading that Becky incorporates into her linear design sets her work apart,” said Wamble, “as well as the finishing accents she adds with pine needle weaving and twining.”
Mid-September found Cox-Rodgers headed to the sixth annual Mississippi Gourd Society Show to exhibit the new work photographed for this article and to also make available the recommended products for gourd art sold at Falcon Art Supply.
Cox-Rodgers first embraced the gourd as art in 2009, though she had grown them in the past simply because she appreciated their organic and natural shapes.
“They offer a dimensional surface that is easier, cheaper and less restrictive than working with clay,” she notes.
In 2013, she took a class on twining from well-known Alabama artist Ethel Owen in Cherokee, North Carolina.
Cox-Rodgers is also a third-generation pine-needle weaver in her own right, via her mother and grandmother. Interestingly, as well, she learned wood burning as a child from her father and grandfather.
Cox-Rodgers’ spider-motif gourd features Nautilus Netting, a technique that is seen in dream catchers.
“I like to use local bird images, too, such the Peregrine Falcon, the Barn Owl, and Cooper’s Hawk,” she said. She has multiple gourd creations that feature the Pileated Woodpecker, a signature favorite.
In her twenties, Cox-Rodgers traveled to the walled city of Carcassonne, France and came home with her first gargoyle statue in her backpack.
Another motif of choice references the Mayan Warrior. A recent imposing creation, and one likely to be an award-winner at upcoming shows, is topped with feathers that represent the headdress the deities were depicted wearing.
This piece has the added color of Mayan Blue, unique to that culture. The deities ride on boats that surf over the fish at the gourd’s bottom.
Cox-Rodgers will be participating in the annual mid-October Cullman Gourd Art show.
Consider yourself invited to meet Fossy, the store dog, and to admire handcarved Felix Falcon on the storefront signage at Falcon Art Supply in Montevallo.