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Zools, Zooks, and gourds
The Varied Art of Alison Adams
By Rod King
Fort Wayne Reader
Whether artist Alison Adams is doing a serious sculpture, drawing, painting, making beautiful objects from nature’s bounty or creating wistful Zools and Zooks, she’s always having fun. The fact that she was raised on a farm and lives on one now in New Haven is evident in some of the subjects and mediums used in her art.
Her work and that of the 17 other owners of The Orchard Gallery, 6312 Covington Rd., is on display in the co-op. Monthly shows also feature offerings of more than 30 artists ranging from wildlife photography, pottery, glass gloom chasers, clothing and oil paintings to decorations, wall hangings, lamps, mixed media, jewelry and soft sculpture.
Adams, who enjoys growing gourds in her garden, became fascinated with the challenge of making something beautiful with them. “After seeing so many tacky things made of gourds over the years, I began playing with them to see if I could turn them into art. They have to be dried, of course, then cleaned and bleached. I pencil on a bird, animal or flower design, then use a wood burning tool which gives the affect of carving and then apply acrylic paint sparingly. It’s pretty tricky, because you’re working with a hot tool on a curved, slippery surface.”
The resulting pieces, after a couple coats of furniture wax, look like fine wooden or pottery bowls and delicate bud vases. She mounts them on natural pieces of wood found on the farm. A small one takes several hours to produce, while those with more intricate designs can take days.
When Adams decided to turn gourds into art, she made a couple to show her fellow artists at the gallery. “In order to display any new or different form of art in the gallery, it has to be juried in by the members. In other words they vote to determine whether or not it’s suitable to be displayed.”
A fire that destroyed part of her sheep barn resulted in materials that have turned up in her art in new and unusual ways. One piece on display at the gallery uses singed wood vertically to represent a black cliff being climbed by a wooden figure of a man. It’s framed in a 100-year-old window frame removed from her farm house during restoration.
Adams raises sheep, among other animals, for the meat, their wool and hides. “I was wondering what to do with the scraps of a hide when I came up with the idea of a stool for a child or an adult with a nutty sense of humor. They’re called Zools, as in stools.”
She affixes natural hides on stools, carves sheep-like heads and makes ears from wooden salad utensils purchased at the Salvation Army Store. “Zools are very placid,” she says, “have a gentle disposition and no bad habits. They rarely move much on their own accord.” Smaller versions, called Zooks, have horns made of old silverware. Anyone who owns a Zook is known as Zook-keeper.
As a child, Adams graduated from drawing on paper bags during World War II in her Wiltshire, England, home to modeling clay. “I discovered you could make three-dimensional things that would stand up. I also learned that they could be baked hard. No one explained that was a different kind of clay. My first sculpture melted all over the stove and caught fire.”
“I really enjoy working in bronze, but it is a very expensive and time consuming process that takes a number of steps, involves making molds and working with a foundry.” Her scale model mother and daughter bronze sculpture is for sale in the gallery. The larger-than-life stone version can be seen in Salem, Indiana.
She attended the Ruskin Art School at Oxford, came to the United States in 1958 and moved to New Haven in 1984. The local artist is proud to have been part of an all-Allen County effort to provide decorative elements for the guard house/entry gate at West Point Military Academy that was presented to the school by members of the class of June 1943. She designed the eagle holding a shield (the Academy crest), designed and made the crest of the presenting class and did a bronze of it. New Haven sculptor Tim Doyle carved the Academy crest in limestone, City Glass created the stained glass windows for the guard house and Gensic Sheet Metal did the copper canopy. Local blacksmith Brett Wilds forged and hammered the hinges for the massive oak doors.
Adams seldom sets a specific time for art, but rather tackles it when the mood moves her and she has the time. She’s quick to point out that though she’s done some very serious work, she really enjoys doing silly stuff, too. In addition to producing fine art and taking her turn in the gallery, she’s president of the New Haven Heritage Association and past president of the Greenway Consortium.