Behind the Brush: Finding Flow

Holly Parker turns gourds into art from her home studio in Eatonton –

The home studio of Eatonton artist, Holly Parker, is both calming and energetic. It’s a place she says allows her to accept the creative energy as it begins to flow – a place where a lowly gourd can become an exquisite work of art.  

“I do not know how to explain to anyone what made me start working with gourds,” says Parker. “Several years before I retired, I was in a gift shop and came across an unusual bowl which intrigued me. I picked it up and did not know what it was. It felt like leather. I was told it was a gourd.” Creative magic was reaching out to Parker, and she was listening.  

“I remember when I started trying to figure out what to do that would be unique to Eatonton. I found the A.B. Frost drawings and just loved them (Frost drew the Remus characters that JC Harris loved the best). I used those drawings on the little gourds, and they just took off. I still do the Brer Rabbit gourds for the museum and The Artisans Village Art Gallery and Genuine Georgia, but I have broadened the depth of my work. I think I have saturated the market with Uncle Remus!”

Parker doesn’t paint gourds, she sketches out a design, then burns, carves and dyes it. “The dyes let me see through to the gourd,” she says. “I don’t like to cover the gourd because to me they are just beautiful. The transparent color allows you to see the mold markings and the blemishes of the gourds.”

Parker’s studio sits behind her house. Hundreds of gourds now reside in what was once an unused storage shed. “It was a labor of love to transform this old shed into my studio.” Friends and family set themselves to the task of turning a “possibility” into what Parker now calls her “happy place.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

“You need a space of your own. It is too easy to let chores compete for your creative time. Only after I had the studio was I able to give my undivided attention to working on the gourds.” Looking at a gourd touched by vivid blue and green ink, Parker says, “In my studio, I forget about time.”

Parker inspects each gourd to gauge its creative progress. “I never work on one gourd at a time. The process begins as I walk around the studio and see what calls to me. I have learned, over time, I cannot work with the finished product in mind. I rarely take commissions for this reason. God really is in the details – the moment,” she says. “That’s when you are in the flow, when you forget about everything but rendering the veins in a butterfly’s wing. Time stands still.”

Time spent in her studio has to be scheduled. “If I don’t schedule the time, it doesn’t happen. At the beginning of the year, I decided to have my tasks done by 10 a.m. so that I could go to the studio. After having lunch with Fred, I go back to the studio for the afternoon. On a good day, I work about six hours or until I get tired.”

Fred Parker, Holly’s husband of 15 years, is her biggest supporter. “Fred is the big reason I do what I do. He wants me to do this. It’s important. Every Christmas, Fred gives me a new tool. Last Christmas it was an air compressor. Before that it was a drill press, then wood burners. He cooks our meals and calls me in to dinner.” Parker’s happiness is quite apparent when she asks, “How many women have a husband like that?”

 When it was announced that Holly Parker’s gourd had won second place in The Artisan Village Guild’s Lake Country Juried Art Show, Parker says that she “was blown away.” “But I have to say, I just had a sense if winning a juried show with a gourd was ever going to happen, it would happen with that gourd. I’ve done many gourds with antlers, but that gourd, when I was working on it, there was just something about that gourd – the way the inks began to pool and swirl around the carved tree. Adding the antler was just perfect. The line of the antler matched the line of the gourd. I just loved it so much. I ran inside and told Fred he had to come look at this. I felt that creative energy just flowing through me. Sometimes you can work too hard at something, and it is just not going to work. Sometimes you have to let it go so it will work its way.  Don’t try so hard and don’t think about getting through to the result. It’s all about surrender, not control.”

The Artisans Village Guild has been a beneficial community of artists for Parker. In 2016, Parker learned that a group of eight or ten ladies were meeting to form an artists’ guild. She knew she wanted to be a part of that group.  After three years, there are almost 100 members in the Guild. “I just love being in the Guild,” says Parker. “It has been such an asset to our community. I could not believe the artists that emerged when it all started.”

Parker has enjoyed success as a juried artist in The Artisans Village Art Gallery in downtown Eatonton. Owned by Kevin and Sara Tomson-Hooper, the Gallery has been a source of great pride for Parker. “I just love to tell everybody about my hometown’s first-rate art gallery. Kevin and Sara have been a Godsend. To have them in our little town, who appreciate art and support art in our community is wonderful.” She has been quite successful in the Gallery during the two years it has been open. Parker also displays her work at Genuine Georgia in Greensboro.

“Being retired, it is easy to drop out of the stream of life. But this – gourds, competition, the Guild, good friends, a supportive family and a wonderful husband has happened to me.”

Parker does not work alone in her studio. Parker whole-heartedly affirms God’s gift to her art. Parker quotes Julia Cameron from “The Artist’s Way,” “Making our art we make artful lives. Making our art, we meet firsthand the hand of our Creator.”

“There is a creative energy that wants to express itself through all of us,” says Parker. “Some of my friends have an eye for interior design or fashion. I didn’t get that. Instead, my eye focused on that ‘lowly gourd.’ I want to show others how you can pick it up off the ground, clean off the dirt, and show it off in all its glory. I believe creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.”

  • Julia Owens manages the Artisans Village Art Gallery in downtown Eatonton.

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