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Gorgeous Gourds Audrey Fontaine — Sonoma County Artist

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Gorgeous Gourds

Audrey Fontaine — Artist

When Audrey Fontaine was 6-years old, her mother took her to the local Girls Club to explore what classes might be of interest to her.  The ceramic studio really caught her attention, as she was mesmerized by an artist at work on a potter’s wheel.  The studio also offered handbuilding, sculpture and casting class options, and she was very excited about the possibilities.  Her mother, however was not willing to enroll her in a ceramics class at that time, and she was signed-up to take ballet instead.  Audrey comments, “This was a great source of frustration for me, as I had expressed absolutely no interest in ballet, had two left feet and felt ridiculous in a tutu!”  Audrey persisted in her efforts to be enrolled in the ceramics class, until finally at the age of 8 her mother agreed (Audrey found out many years later that there was an age minimum of 8-years old to take that class; she only wishes her mother had told her that at the time).

The ceramics class each Saturday morning was the highlight of her week, and it was there that she learned a number of handbuilding and casting techniques, along with how to glaze and kiln fire her creations.  As an adolescent she began studying ceramics with a woman who offered group classes in her home studio, and as a teen Audrey took her first pottery class on the wheel.  These experiences led to her pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Studio Art with a Ceramic Specialization at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, CT.  It was there that she developed a love for making jewelry as well, as she took many classes in jewelry fabrication and metalsmithing.   The Studio Art degree offered a well-rounded approach which included a variety of 2 and 3-dimensional hands-on courses along with art history and theory. Audrey was the ceramic studio assistant for a year, and also involved with the University’s Arts Council.  It was at SCSU that she developed her interest in mixed-media applications on ceramic forms, which led to some of her current mixed-media explorations with gourd art.

After completing her BS Degree, Audrey looked into graduate school programs in ceramics, however decided to pursue (and was awarded) a Fellowship at Penland School of Crafts in Penland, North Carolina.  This two-year Fellowship allowed her to study under dozens of internationally renowned instructors, each for an average of two-weeks, where she was immersed in their area of expertise.  Audrey preferred this approach over studying with one or two instructors for a 2-year period, as would have been the case in a typical graduate degree program.

Penland School of Crafts is located on over 500 acres of land in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The school has approximately 15 studios and Audrey was fortunate to be allowed to work in any of her choosing, which fueled her desire to explore a variety of other fine-craft media.  During her Fellowship she studied not only handbuilding and wheel-thrown ceramic sculpture (along with a variety of finishing and kiln firing techniques), but also steel and stone outdoor scale sculpture, woodworking, jewelry and metal working, silk painting, shibori, faux-finish painting, handmade paper sculpting and more.

Some other art centers Audrey has studied at in the past include Arrowmont School of Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN, and the Idyllwild Arts Academy in Idyllwild, CA (where she had the great pleasure of studying under her personal favorite gourd artist, Bill Colligen).  Audrey has also taken numerous classes at the Brookfield Craft Center in Brookfield, CT and the Guilford Art Center in Guilford, CT, and worked in the galleries at both of these venues for a period of time.  It was at the Brookfield Craft Center where she took her first class in gourd art almost twenty years ago.

Audrey was the manager for the Endleman-Kraus Galleries in New Haven, CT upon her graduation from Southern Connecticut State University, which was an early learning experience and honor.  She has been a member of the American Craft Council since 1980, and is currently also a member of the California Gourd Society and the Sebastopol Center for the Arts.

Ms. Fontaine was raised in Waterbury, Connecticut, went to college in New Haven, CT, and lived in Boulder, Colorado for 4 years.  A friend from college then invited her to move to Cape Cod, Massachusetts to form a ceramic studio business together.  When things didn't work out as planned with the business partnership, Audrey headed to Penland, North Carolina for her two-year Fellowship, after which time she went back to Connecticut for 13 years.  She relocated from Connecticut to the Monterey, California area in 2003, and to Sonoma County in 2014, where she is finding much creative inspiration.

Creating with Natural Elements

Audrey Fontaine - Gourd Vessel with Beads and FeathersOver the years Audrey has experimented with over 25 different craft media including gourds, clay, jewelry and metalworking, wood, fiber, leather, polymer, precious metal clay, mixed-media sculpture and driftwood art. Natural elements often make their way into her work, which tends to be earthy by design. Her gourd art which is inspired by Native American influence incorporates beads, feathers, fibers and found objects. In her more contemporary designs she has been experimenting with color and pattern juxtaposition, creating relationships between positive and negative space. Detailed patterns adorn her vessels, whereas her abstract non-functional forms allow the viewer to develop their own interpretation. 

Audrey is also enjoying great success with her beaded jewelry designs which utilize lampworked glass, natural stone and crystal beads along with pure sterling silver or 14 karat gold plated earwires, clasps and chains.  Her Ocean Inspired Collection is receiving rave reviews, and is a top seller at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Audrey also has a Garden Collection, Radiance Collection, Black & White Collection and Natural Stone Collection.

Sonoma County Art Studio Tour

Audrey Fontaine is excited to be exhibiting her gourd art in ‘Art at the Source’, Sonoma County’s open studio tour.  It will be held over two weekends, Saturdays and Sundays, June 6-7 and June 13-14, 2015.  She will show her work at the studio of fused glass artist Melissa McCann, who will be displaying her beautiful glass creations.  Also exhibiting at that Occidental location will be landscape, figure and portrait artist Beverly Bird.  Audrey says, “Having three artists showing their work in one location on the tour creates a special energy and offers the viewer much more to see, making it well worth their visit!”  Audrey’s artist number is 96C, and she will be demonstrating her technique of creating intricate patterns on gourds all 4 days of the tour at 11:00 a.m.  ‘Art at the Source’ tour maps and information on the other participating artists is available at www.artatthesource.org. For three years Audrey participated in the Monterey County Artist’s Studio Tour in Monterey, CA (2011-13), and it was her favorite show each year.  She is very much looking forward to her involvement with “Art at the Source”, which is a very similar event.

Other locations in Sonoma County where her work is displayed include the Made Local Marketplace at 531 5th Street in Santa Rosa (jewelry), Gallery One at 209 Western Avenue in Petaluma (gourd art), and Stones Throw at 15 Charles Street in Cotati (both jewelry and gourd art, along with some mixed-media driftwood Peace Totems and Talking Sticks).

Audrey has been represented by a number of galleries over the years, including having been involved in the 2014 Holiday show at the C14 Contemporary Arts Gallery and the Member’s Show at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, both in Sebastopol, CA.  For quite a few years she exhibited her work at the Carmel Valley Art Association in Carmel Valley, CA.  She has had work in two separate shows at Arts Visalia Gallery, Visalia, CA, along with shows at Fallbrook Art Center, Fallbrook, CA and The Loft Gallery & Studio, Pacific Grove, CA.  Some other past venues include Pilgrim’s Way, Carmel, CA, Avant Garden and Casa Del Soul, both in Carmel Valley, CA, Brookfield Craft Center, Brookfield, CT, Washington Art Association, Washington, CT, Black Mesa Gallery, Woodbury, CT, Bohemia Gallery, New Haven, CT, Wave Gallery, New Haven, CT, Craft Company No. 6, Rochester, NY, Penland School of Crafts Gallery, Penland, NC, New Morning Gallery, Asheville, NC, Society of CT Craftsmen, Waterbury, CT and Timberline Gallery, Nederland, CO.

Audrey’s jewelry is sold through galleries, boutiques and gift shops across the country, including An Artisans Marketplace, Plainville, CT, Sharon Art Center, Peterborough, NH, R.A. Georgetti & Co., Mystic, CT, Glass Action, Pawtuckett, RI, Zinnia, Chatham, MA, Luminata, Monterey, CA, Big Sur Garden Gallery, Big Sur, CA, Artisana, Pacific Grove, CA, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, CA as well as on her website, www.audreyfontainejewelry.com.

Audrey Fontaine - Gourd Covered JarAudrey says her personal favorite piece is her “Art Deco” patterned gourd covered jar, stating “I love the way the design spirals out from the central focal point, creating movement for the eye.  The seed pod on the knob plays off of the pattern and shape of the lid, creating a smaller mirror image of it.  The metal stand supplies good height to the gourd, allowing the viewer to see the pattern almost all the way around the gourd.  Symmetry plays an important role in my patterned designs, and this piece reflects that well.  I am proud to say that my “Art Deco” bowl has won a First Place Award through the California Gourd Society, and is featured on the home page of their website (upper left corner) at http://www.californiagourdsociety.com/.  It is my hope that people will receive pleasure when looking at my artwork, and that it somehow speaks to their heart, lightens their spirit.  Perhaps it helps them to feel a sense of connection to another culture or time. My goal is for the work I produce to draw in the eye of the beholder, and possibly instill in them a desire to introduce it into their own environment.  It is a wonderful feeling for me when one of my creations finds its perfect home.”

The materials Audrey uses are her greatest source of inspiration.  She elaborates, “When I get my hands working on an art project, it feels like they have a mind of their own.  It is as if the creativity flows through them from a deeper source.  I used to feel that my hands were of a whole different entity, since I might begin working with no ideas in mind for a creative project, however in touching the materials a creative spark would ignite in me.  If I am at a loss for inspiration, the best motivator is to just begin juxtaposing elements together in various combinations, and eventually I will come to that ‘Aha’ moment, where a work of art is born.  The excitement generated by completing one piece typically inspires the next.  In working on my complex patterned gourds however, I do need to begin with a plan and map things out in advance in order to maintain symmetry and cohesiveness.  This is a very different process than how I work on my mixed-media projects.”

Audrey’s goal is to continue to evolve into a better artist, both technically and aesthetically.  She says, “As I am intrigued by a variety of media, I anticipate learning some new skills in the years to come.  Encaustic and shadow box collage have been calling to me for some time.  I would like to revisit Penland School of Crafts for some classes, as that school holds a special place in my heart.  It has been many years since I was there on Fellowship and as a scholarship student and studio assistant.  I am a life-long learner, so anticipate taking classes through a number of venues.  I do plan to continue creating gourd art and jewelry for years to come however.  I am at my happiest when I’m in my studio. I am proud to say that I have received multiple awards, been represented by galleries nationwide for over 35 years, and taught a variety of crafts to both adults and children.”

In addition to art, Audrey is passionate about health and the environment.  She also works as a Holistic Health Counselor, empowering people on their journey towards optimal health (prevention and reversal of diseases) and their ideal weight.  She helps clients achieve this through nutrition (transitioning them to a whole foods plant based diet) and counseling them on creating balance in their lives.

Art is important to Audrey because she feels it is an expression of an individual’s creativity and imagination.  It can evoke an array of emotions.  All forms of artistic expression appeal to her, and she is a great fan of many types of music, dance and dramatic performances.  It also gives her great joy when she is able to support another artists’ work.  Audrey comments, “Art has been an important aspect of all cultures.  Whether in the form of cave paintings or more elaborate historical creations, art seems to be a big part of our human nature.  It saddens me that so many school systems are reducing or eliminating the art and music curriculums in favor of more “academic” programs, or simply because it is “not in the budget”.  When I was in grade school, my favorite classes were art and music, and if there was a project assigned where I could focus on the art or music of another culture, I would jump at the chance.  There is just something about it that feeds the soul, and it is my hope that the key decision makers at educational institutions will realize the importance of continuing to offer such programs.”

When asked where she would most like to see her work displayed in the future, Audrey answers, “It would be a great honor to have my artwork exhibited at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C., which is the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s craft and decorative arts venue (currently closed for renovations).  My visit there a number of years ago proved to be quite inspirational, offering some of the best fine-craft objects I have ever seen on display.  To have my work exhibited at the Renwick would be a sign that I have ‘made it’.”

In thinking about her future projects, Audrey states, “If time and money were of no object, I imagine that I would work on a much larger scale with my gourd art.  I have seen some gourds up to 3-feet tall incorporating some amazing embellishments.  I typically work in the 12-18” range, as that size tends to be more marketable, fitting in with the average person’s home décor.  With regard to my jewelry, I would use more precious metals and stones, and each piece would be one-of-a-kind (I currently offer limited edition series as well). Art has been my life-long passion, and the creative process feels like my life’s purpose.  I am at my happiest when creating, and receive great joy upon completion of a new project.  Each new piece of art feels like the birth of a child, and it is exciting to know that my work will live on long after my time on this planet is done.”

P.O. Box 751608
Petaluma, CA  94975-1608
Audrey@audreyfontaine.com
(831)521-8864

Websites

www.audreyfontaine.com,
www.audreyfontainejewelry.com