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Gourd Artist Beth Cox

Author: Terri Feder
Issue: May, 2013, Page 150
Photos by Garrett Cook

Scottsdale artist Beth Cox creates her signature quail gourds in her home studio and gallery, Quail Run Studio.

Scottsdale Artist Beth Cox Creates Vibrant Gourd Art Made to Resemble the Desert’s Gambel’s Quail

Like the English author and illustrator Beatrice Potter, who loved to observe wildlife in the English and Scottish countrysides, gourd artist and painter Beth Cox spent her childhood in rural Valley Mills, Texas, watching the critters that happened by. “Our family lived on a farm and had chickens. I always loved watching them, seeing how they scratched and pecked for food,” recalls Cox.

So it’s little wonder that after moving to Arizona in 2000, she found herself equally fascinated with the Gambel’s quail that teeter and totter about the yard just outside her art studio. “When I moved here, I missed the chickens. The quail took their place. I adore them—how they protect their young,” says the artist.

It was her own young—two daughters—to whom she dedicated her efforts before seriously turning to painting. Though mostly self-taught, Cox has taken many drawing and painting classes throughout her life. “My mom was instrumental in nurturing my love of art. She had me take drawing and painting classes from an early age,” the artist relates.

Cox began her professional career as a painter working in oil, acrylic and watercolor on canvas and paper. How-ever, during her first year as a featured artist in Arizona’s annual Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour, she realized that the scope of her work needed to be narrowed to one medium that would represent a cohesive body of work to art collectors. “People were looking at my paintings and thinking that three different artists painted them,” she explains. 

After much reflection, Cox finally had a eureka moment when she stumbled upon an antiques shop selling gourds. “I picked up those plain gourds thinking that I would put them in a bowl for display. Then one morning, as I was looking out at the quail, I thought, “the shape of the gourds kind of looks like the quail,” she recalls. So she created some “quail prototypes” featuring little black beaks and topknots, and embellished them with carvings and painted desert and botanical scenes.

Three hundred-plus uniquely inked and carved quail later, it’s clear that Cox has finally found her calling. Five to six hours a day, she is busy in her home studio creating her signature works of art. She starts with a pear-shaped gourd, specially grown and dried in California’s Temecula Valley for use by artists and handpicked by Cox herself. She heads outside in the morning, dons a ventilated mask and carves the quail’s stylized features. Next, she uses polymer clay to sculpt and bake a unique beak and topknot for each bird. Then she sketches a pencil design on the gourd and heats up a pyrography pen to permanently draw the lines. Finally, a paintbrush is used to apply ink dyes in vibrant jewel tones and other colors. Once the paint dries, the gourd gets a UV-shielding overcoat to protect and preserve it.

Says Jenny Willigrod, president of the board of On the Edge Gallery, where Cox is represented, “Beth’s work has been a great addition for the gallery as her Gambel’s quail gourds uniquely represent Arizona. The artistic and whimsical gourds are all one-of-a kind creations and individually themed.”

Finding inspiration is easy for Cox, who spends ample time in nature with her husband, Rodney. “We mountain bike and hike a lot, and we see far more animals in the desert than we used to on the farm,” she notes. It is these animals and scenes, imprinted in her memory, that she uses to craft each unique piece in her covey of fine-art quail gourds. Says the artist of her creations, “Each piece is like taking a walk in the desert.”

Collector Patricia McDowell agrees, stating, “Embellished with all the wonderful desert creatures, flowers, cacti—Beth’s gourds are a delight to the eye and make a strong vibrant statement of the Sonoran Desert, but one that retains the charm and warmth of an object that we love showcasing in our homes.” 

An array of Cox’s Gambel’s quail gourds showcases their individualized topknots. Colorful scenes depicting the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert adorn the gourds, which range in size from 2"H (for the “just hatched” babies) up to 18"H and anywhere in between, depending on nature’s whims.

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