Somewhere on a Christmas Tree at the Smithsonian Museum’s Renwick Gallery, there hangs an ornament hand-painted by Springfield’s Charlotte Durrence.
Durrence’s ornament is hanging as a result of her membership in the Society of Decorative Painters, which was invited to decorate the tree. Each of the 500 ornaments hanging on the tree this year was inspired by one of the paintings in the Renwick’s permanent collection.
Durrence chose the painting “Tiger’s Head” by Abbott Henderson Thayer, and she said she chose it because she loves nature. Durrence said the gallery sent out small blank pieces of wood for the artists to paint on. Durrence painted an ornament several years ago that was displayed in the Blue Room of the White House and said it was a wonderful experience, but a little unusual as it was during the Clinton impeachment proceedings — there were “guns everywhere,” she said.
Durrence began painting back in 1993 when she first started painting on gourds.
“When I did one, everybody wanted one like it,” she said. “I still have that first one and it’s not pretty to look at. But I look at it so I can tell where I came from.”
She said at first, her kids sold them for her and she didn’t have to do anything but said people started coming over to the house to buy gourds. From there she did art shows at various places.
She’s always looking for new techniques.
“As much as I love to do gourds, I love to do natural gourds, pine needle weaving on them and carving and that type of thing. But I have to do the seasonal gourds because that’s what sells so well,” Durrence said.
She joined the American Gourd Society, was first vice president, and then as a charter member, helped to start the Georgia Gourd Society. She teaches classes all over the country for the Society of Decorative Painters and the Gourd Societies.
Durrence gets her gourds from two local growers, Turkey Branch Gourds and B&B Gourds in Springfield, and from a big gourd farm in Wrens. She also said the groups have a good gourd show at the state fairgrounds in Perry every year and they have both classes as well as competitions.
Durrence said they have a local gourd patch, called the Coastal Gourd Sprouts, that meets monthly.
“We average about 30 people at our meetings,” she said. “We teach classes — sometimes we have gourd education day.”
Durrence said there are about 25 or 30 gourd artists in the county, and many of them go to crafts shows. She is planning now for a Gourd Retreat to be held in March at the New Ebenezer Retreat Center and is bringing in Judy Ritchie, an accomplished gourd artist from Texas.
Durrence also is excited about the re-forming of Effingham’s Arts Council.
“I was at Callaway Gardens last year and we had a display in their gallery of gourds,” she said. “While we were there, they had an art exhibit for high school students and several kids from Effingham County were in there and placed. Effingham’s finally getting to the point where they can appreciate art. It’s coming around and we need some culture around here.”
The tree will be on display in the Renwick Gallery’s Grand Salon from through the end of December. The gallery is located near the White House at 17th and Pennsylvania Avenue. It is the home of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum’s craft and decorative arts program.