Gourds are golden for Charleston artists

Sunday, December 16, 2001

CHARLESTON, Ill. -- Karenlee Spencer anoints another gourd angel with its copper wire halo, while her mind takes flight to consider the eternal question: Why do people find Spencer creations so heavenly?

"Well, I think it is because they emit soul," she says finally. "Their eyes kind of speak to you, and they make people smile, they really do."

Karenlee and husband Chuck run an art business called Goods From the Woods, and the title is the ultimate example of truth in advertising.

They live six miles outside of Charleston on something called Snake Trail Road. The end of the gravel trail is their self-built home, which sits in splendid isolation amid 130 acres of woods. Power comes from solar panels and a generator, and the couple's only company are their two children: daughter Willow Grace, 12, and 7-year-old son Tibet Winter Crow.

The family watches movies, but there is no television, which probably helps explain why their kids are straight-A students. And then there is the art, which Mom and Dad create seven days a week.

Karenlee paints more than 30 different characters, ranging from angels with their halos and rusty tin wings to gourds known as the "Herb Lady" and the "Pear Lady." Gourds vary in size from two inches to 2 feet tall and 18 inches across. Prices go from $30 to several hundred dollars.

Chuck's art also uses gourds, many of which are homegrown, to fashion a series of Native-American flavored characters and other creations stretching from lamps to "spirit pots." He decorates them with paint, feathers, hide and deer hair and says the way the pieces are cultivated and made gives them an "energy" people notice.

"Everything that comes out of here has that energy which comes from all of the handling they undergo, and from this environment," says Chuck, 54. "Our work makes contact with people on an energetic level; it's like it's alive."

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