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 within 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 center of my class that evening was the island’s gourd bag lady, Mrs. 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 with a unique twist by creating custom made handbags. Though 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 tee shirts. Her small investment of time and resources for the class has translated itself into new and bright avenues for her production.
Many artists and crafter’s bottom line is just selling their product to who-so-ever-will purchase. 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,” Pearce asserts. As a gourd bag designer for some 15 years, Mrs. Pearce believes that the texture painting class has given her a unique experience and technical know-how to apply new techniques to her bags.