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Perseverance pays for Appalachian artists
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A fresh batch of gourd impression pottery is ready to come out of the kiln at The Gourd Place in White County. - photo by Tom Reed

With its mountain vistas, brightened in the fall by changing leaves, one might think North Georgia would be filled with painters staring at the horizon.

Automatic inspiration, right?

The region has its share of artists wielding palettes and paintbrushes, but art takes many forms — traditional to quirky — among those living in the hills and valleys of the landscape. The most casual observer can recognize that by driving down one of the many back roads or stopping to shop along a downtown street.

Gobs of gourds

Priscilla Wilson takes pride in being known as one of the “Gourd Girls” who run the “The Gourd Place” at 2319 Duncan Bridge Road in Sautee.

She and Janice Lymburner have a patent on a process using gourds as the mold for pottery pieces, which fill their store, one of three buildings nestled by a lake on 11 acres.

The finished product, whether it is a planter or a Christmas ornament, looks like it started as a gourd.

Wilson and Lymburner, both former teachers, started the business in 1976.

“We were riding around the country one day and (Lymburner) said, ‘I want to stop at a roadside stand and get a gourd. I want to make a planter for my mother,’” Wilson said after a tour of business during a rainy day in July.

“She’ll tell you she’s not crafty, but for some reason, she wanted to do this. She kind of talked me into getting one, and then I said, ‘This is it. I’m going to quit teaching and go into the gourd business.’”

Wilson began with simple, undecorated creations.

“But gradually, I began to realize that people weren’t really getting into it. People weren’t going to appreciate it unless it had some artwork on it. So, I taught myself to draw and do the carving ... and over the years, one idea after another keeps coming.”

The pottery was “our salvation,” Wilson said. “Our business was at a low ebb when that idea came along.”

The business now features a museum of gourd art from around the world, retail shops and, of course, the basement workshop, which leads to an outbuilding that houses a kiln.

Wilson and Lymburner used to grow five or six acres of gourds every year, “but now our focus is more on the pottery, so we buy the gourds from a couple of farmers who aren’t too far away.”

“We just drive our old jalopy van and load up,” Wilson said. “And there’s someone who cleans the gourds for us. In their unfinished state, they have this ugly skin on the outside — you’d never dream they could be made into anything.”

The pair has gotten caught up in the misshapen plants, especially enjoying the play on words it provides.

For example, after their helper, Liesel Potthast, had been with the business for a while, they held a “gourdination” for her, proclaiming her has one of the “Gourd Girls.”

They have started their own collection of dolls, “Gourd’uns.”

And as you’re leaving the business, a sign tells customers, “Have a gourd day.”

Working with glass

A little newer to the area are Clint and Eloise Carey, who operate Serendipity Stained Glass at 10740 Ga. 197 N.

They work out of a glass business formerly operated by J.P. and Gladys Bell.

“We always vacationed from Florida and stayed at Unicoi State Park. We stopped in one day and looked over (an artist’s) shoulder at what he was doing,” Clint Carey said.

“He walked out the front door and said, ‘I could do that,’” his wife said. “I said, ‘Well, do it,’ and that was it.”

“A good bit of practice later and you see me,” he said, while working on a square piece of stained window in his workshop.

He uses a soldering gun, copper wiring and other devices in his work to create pieces varying from glass panels to small sun catchers.

“All it takes from here on out is time,” he said, as he established a rhythm to his work.

“And patience,” Eloise Carey said.

From a glass kiln, the Careys have created glass pendants of many shapes, sizes and colors, as well as wine bottle cheese trays and bottle wind chimes.

Passion for pottery

Farther north in the state, artists roam in and out routinely at the Georgia Heritage Center for the Arts, a nonprofit organization promoting Georgia artists.

The gallery, which is at 11785 U.S. 441 N. in Tallulah Falls, features demonstrating artists every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Visitors not only can catch artists at work, but they can shop for art. Samples of the artists’ crafts fill every corner of the building.

“There’s not enough time to do all the things that I have ideas for,” said Julie Cavender, a clay artist who specializes in wheel-thrown pottery.

“I mostly just make things that make me happy — things I would have in my house.”

Cavender, who lives in Carnesville, began her craft in 1991, while recovering from a car accident.

“I was housebound, and for Christmas that year, my husband got me a wheel, bag of clay and a book,” she said. “... After a few years of making mud, I started making things that actually looked like something.”

Since the late 1990s, Cavender has worked at the center. She has been a demonstrating artist for five or six years.

“I love it. I love coming up here,” she said. “It’s a real great group of people. We exchange ideas and sort of feed off each other.”

She looks around the center, where, in one corner, a couple of painters are busy at their easels.

“We just like to play,” said Cavender, who worked as a laboratory technician before her injuries disabled her.

Then, with a laugh, she added, “It’s nice people want to pay us for what we want to play with.”

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