Gourd artist Dixie Guldner credits her first career, as a concert organist, with her artistic expression.
"When I retired from my second career (as a therapist) it made sense that I didn't want to do any kind of people work. I wanted to go back to my basic creativity," Guldner said.
It was a decision that has brought her happiness.
"Painting gourds is a relaxing, meditative experience," she said.
It all began eight years ago when Guldner's sister-in-law brought her a gourd that was shaped like a duck.
"It sat in my garage for two years and I had no idea what to do with it," Guldner said.
Then, in Sept. 1998 she took a class in beginning gourd work at Southwest Gardener.
Gourds are an ornamental plant of the pumpkin family cultivated for thousands of years and made into utensils, storage containers and ornaments.
That December, Guldner placed second in the novice division of the Arizona gourd show.
Richly painted hues make the artist's gourds stand out as items of beauty.
"Leading up to gourds, I was a self-taught pastel landscape artist," she said.
But once she got her hands around a gourd she said she knew, "This is how I want to express myself."
A gourd bowl is, by its nature, functional, but some Guldner treats so they are food safe.
The bowls range from a circle of women to ones that could be used as vases for dried flowers to more contemporarily painted and capped bowls. If a gourd does not sit well on its own bottom, she has found that by judicious placement of copper tube she adds functionality to form.
Guldner does not grow her own gourds, she purchases them from a gourd farm.
Part of her process is to set a gourd on her dining room table so each time she walks by she can look at it and see what it wants to become.
Each gourd is uniquely shaped and textured. Some skins are thick which makes them nice if Guldner wants to cut out shapes. Other skins are thin which allows her to drill holes to create a loom to weave waxed linen thread through and inlay stones.
"The other thing I am enjoying creating right now are masks," she said.
"Masks are interesting to me because masks are often windows to the soul," Guldner said.
When she looks at a gourd she discovers whether it wants to be a Southwestern mask or perhaps a Venetian mask.
Which type she chooses determines paint color and what kind of feathers and any stone, usually turquoise, that might fit.
"Gourd art is great for gifts, particularly if you are sending them because they pack well, they are lightweight and they are very sturdy," she said.
Guldner gourds 40 to 50 hours a week, while listening to Bach. "I love the satisfaction of looking at a piece and saying that is exactly the way I wanted it to look."
Guldner and her husband live half the week in Payson, half in the Valley.
"My interest in art up here is really to be part of establishing a co-op gallery of fine art," she said.
Name: Dixie Guldner
Medium: gourd art
Art award you are most proud: First Place for 3D art at the Payson Art League show in 2005.
Upcoming project: Putting the finishing touches on a table centerpiece bowl and accessories including candle holders, napkin rings and salt-and-pepper shakers for the state gourd show held in Casa Grande in February 2007. The set will be on a theme of Native women.
Second career: I taught marriage and family sex therapy for 25 years.
Favorite books: mysteries, biographies, philosophy
Favorite sport: You can't have lived in Canada without loving hockey.
Points of contact: (480) 986-2836 or www.gourdartbydixie.com and Artists of the Rim Gallery, 408 W. Main St.