Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour :: Jane Boggs Living Her Passion
It is said that people who find their passion and achieve success have lives that are fulfilled. My recent visit with award-winning artist Jane Boggs brought this to mind as I learned she is living her life just that way. I talked with Jane about art and gained insights into how she found her passion and how she developed it into her business.
Jane is the directory cover artist for this year’s Sonoran Arts League Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour (HITH), which takes place the last two weekends in November. It is a coveted honor and Jane is thrilled to have been selected. Each year there is a competition and this is the first time that a three-dimensional artist has been chosen.
Jane works with gourds and many materials to embellish them, creating one-of-a-kind art pieces, including sculpture figures that are multi-cultural, masks, and vessels. It is her piece, titled “Avatar,” that was selected for the cover. It is a large piece, measuring 49”w x 52”h x 12”d and, while it looks amazing in the photograph, in person it is stunningly beautiful. If it were a woman, it would be said that, “she exudes beauty, energy, power and confidence.”
For Jane, “Avatar” was two years in the making. It started with a beautiful gourd and an idea. Jane had created masks before, using gourds and natural feathers to embellish them, but she knew that this particular gourd wanted to be something epic. “It took a while for the idea to develop and many months to select the design and combinations of feathers and sculptural qualities,” said Jane. The wait paid off… the piece is magnificent.
Jane shared with me how she got started with gourds. “It all began with a safari to Africa that my husband and I took in the early 1990s,” said Jane. “I was intrigued with the functional uses of gourds and how they have been used by many cultures for over 10,000 years for things like water dippers, storage containers, canteens, and musical instruments. In fact, gourds are still used today for some of the same purposes.” She showed me one that she purchased on that trip, which had been used as a “lunch box” by a Maasai warrior. The lunch was something like goats’ milk and blood, which sounds pretty primitive, but is extremely nutritious. While purely functional, the object is highly decorated, which is what many cultures do with everyday items.
The next piece of the puzzle fit together when Jane and her husband moved to Cave Creek from Denver, Colorado fifteen years ago, after a successful business career. One of the first things she did was to take up oil painting. One day, a friend called her and asked if she wanted to go to a farm in the South Mountain area. When she got there she saw a field full of gourds drying in the sunshine. She walked out into the field and instantly felt a real connection to the gourds. She loved the earthiness of them and the possibilities they presented. She ended up filling her car to the brim with gourds, having bought over 100 of them. She and her friend laughed all the way home. “I had no idea what to do with them,” said Jane with a chuckle. “And, of course, the car was a mess; it was also filled with the soil and detritus from the fields.”
Her trip to Africa had sparked her interest, and she felt called to do something with gourds, but 15 years ago gourds were not used for art very much and there was very little information available about how to treat them or their artistic potential. Internet search capability was in its infancy, and there were very few relevant books. She had to figure it out on her own: how to clean them, cut them, dry them and then how to use them as a medium for artistic expression. There was a lot of trial and error.
She became so fascinated by gourds that she dropped out of oil painting and concentrated on experimenting and developing her ideas using gourds as an artistic medium. She always loved Hopi Kachinas and was inspired to use gourds as the figurative shape for the sculpture. Her first sale was to a man who has an extensive Kachina collection. Since that time she has created many wonderful one-of-a-kind pieces.
Each gourd speaks to her and tells her what it wants to become. This process usually starts as the gourd is cleaned and the outside surface reveals its true colors. The unusual contours might indicate the potential for an interesting figure or mask, an Asian-style piece, something contemporary, or something that would be enhanced with an etched drawing.
Acrylic dyes, inks and paints are then applied to complement the organic surface of the gourd. Some of the pieces are embellished with exotic feathers, leather, turquoise, copper, natural reeds and beads, which give each piece their truly original look. She also adds clay to her figures, which gives them an even more realistic life form. As with her Avatar piece, Jane doesn’t force or rush the creative process.
Working out of her beautiful pueblo-style home and studio, Jane also enjoys teaching classes at her studio, in addition to creating art. Many students return time and time again for the experience. They find that creating an art piece and being in the beautiful Sonoran desert is a wonderful way to spend the day.
Throughout our discussion, several things about Jane struck me. Her enthusiasm and vibrancy is clearly visible, but behind that there is her sense of adventure, her inner confidence, and her willingness to take risks. I asked her how she came to be the person she is: someone willing to be open to discovering and then following her passion. She explained that her mother instilled in her the philosophy that, whatever you want to try - do it. The only failure is not to try.
“My advice to anyone who will listen is that, if there is something you really want to do in life, do it,” said Jane. “I always felt that when I’m gone I want to leave something here on earth that is part of me, not just being a wife and mother, but rather something that makes people think of me, something they will enjoy. When I see people look at my art and smile, it makes me very happy and I realize I got my wish.”
Jane is open to what life presents, willing to think outside the box and to jump into things she knows nothing about. Over the course of her life, she started her own business, she later became head of a six-state region for junior competitive tennis, and for the past 15 years she has pursued her art and provided leadership organizing art events and helping other artists.
Drawing on these insights from Jane, perhaps finding your passion takes courage to try things that you don’t know anything about, to follow something that sparks your interest, to be willing to experiment, and to be tenacious in discovering what will work and not work. Perhaps, though, it all boils down to the lesson she learned from her mother - the only failure is not to try. What a great philosophy to pass on to your children.
Jane’s studio has been on the HITH Studio Tour for 15 years, and she hosts many of the same artists she did from the beginning. Talented artists at her studio this year include fine art jewelry, Cynthia Downs; pastel painter, Sue Hunter; oil painter, Ellen Leibow; photographer, Bill Leibow; and leather furniture, Ernie Apodaca.
Her studio number is #38 and it is located at 33488 N. 55th Street, Cave Creek, AZ. Her phone is 480-488-8833 and her website is www.janeboggsgourdart.com.
HITH is one of the best artist studio tours in the country, and the largest in the Valley. The self-guided tour features 150 working artists at 45 studio locations throughout Cave Creek, Carefree and North Scottsdale and is held the last two weekends in November: November 16-18 and November 23-25, from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily. All art forms are included with many nationally- known artists presenting their latest work, as well as talented new emerging artists.
This event provides art enthusiasts with a unique opportunity to tour at their own pace, observe artists at work in their private studios, and purchase art directly from the creators. The 450-member non-profit Sonoran Arts League presents this much-anticipated annual event.
Visitors can plan their own personalized tour by creating a customizable map at www.hiddeninthehills.org.
Sonoran Arts League office
6051 E. Hidden Valley Drive in Cave Creek