Martha Danek has exhibited her unique natural art since the second year of the Chatham Studio Tour, now in its 25th year, in her Red Barn Studio in Bynum, North Carolina. It is the original barn down a grassy path behind her house that was built in the 1920s by her great-grandparents. Visitors literally experience locally grown art.
Danek creates painted and sculpted objects from gourds that she grows right here in Chatham County. “My pieces are inspired by the natural beauty of Chatham County. When people visit during the studio tour, I hope that the experiences and interactions they have here create positive memories associated with any art they might take home,” she explains.
Martha became intrigued with decorated gourds in the early 90s, when her parents saw some in the mountains and were given instructions by a local artist there. Using gourds as a canvas appealed to her because it combines sculpture and painting with the use of natural materials. She adapted the material to express her own esthetic.
“We plant the gourds in the spring, pick them in the fall and they dry over the course of the year,” she describes. “Water leaches out of them while drying and they get moldy which makes them look terrible, but there is a beautiful surface underneath after they’ve been washed.”
The surface looks like wood and anything that grew on it, such as a vine or leaves, leaves an imprint. It is a mottled color and becomes the “canvas” on which she paints. She uses an electric gourd saw to cut off the top. Seeds and other debris are removed from the inside, which is then usually painted black. She paints on the outer surfaces with water colors and uses India ink for details. “It’s a wonderful surface on which to create nature-inspired images.” The final step involves spraying the gourds with a wax that is usually used for leather. One gourd can take anywhere from one day to a week to paint depending on size and complexity of the design. In recent years she has also painted on old barn wood and has used found objects for assemblages.
Danek studied fine art at Meredith College in Raleigh and had planned to become an art educator, but found that she was more interested in helping children with their emotional needs than teaching art. She decided to get a graduate degree in counseling at U
NC-Chapel Hill and worked as a guidance counselor at North Chatham elementary school for seven years; during that period she worked at her art part time. In 1999 she became a full time artist, and she and her husband started a family in 2000.
Her gourds are priced from $30 – $500 depending on size. They are currently are on display at the UNC building in Chatham Park and may be seen at other local venues.
Martha Danek’s one of a kind locally grown and created natural wonders are a “must see” at the Silver Anniversary Chatham Studio Tour the first two weekends in December.