Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mind Body Spirit Artist Interview: PattyMara Gourley

Many of us first became introduced to the world of artist PattyMara Gourley through the Mind Body Spirit Marketplace when it was located on the now defunct 1000 Markets.  To me, her mixed media artwork has always possessed a certain je ne sais quoi- that indescribable magical something which sets her apart from the pack.  Is it her personal style?  Her immense knowledge base on indigenous cultures and spirituality?  Or maybe it's just her invaluable accumulated knowledge and wisdom as an older woman.  Whatever it is, PattyMara is PattyMara, and the world is a much more vibrant, positive place by having her and her wonderful art in it!
                                                                                                                ~ diane fergurson

Skeleton Day of the Dead Platter
MBS:  How old are you and when did you become a full time artist?

PattyMara:  I'm 62 and I became a full time artist after my children started high school and college, at age 50.  Before that I worked as a freelance graphics designer/illustrator and assisted homebirth midwives (five years of being on call 24/7!).  I'm never going to retire...I'll just keep making art until it's time for me to go. 

MBS:    Can you tell us a little about your background?  How you got started in art?

PattyMara:  I have clear memories of my mother smoothing out the white paper that came from the butcher, then giving me and my brothers rulers and pencils to make geometric designs to color with crayons.  I might have been four or five years old then...and through my early childhood, I have many memories of using the simple art supplies, like colored paper, magazines and paste to make mosaics and collages. She taught me to sew and cook and bake.   I went to Catholic grade school, high school and two years of college, where art took a back seat to academics.  By the time I transferred to UC Santa Cruz in my junior year, I found a whole new world of art opportunities.  I wandered into a pottery studio and learned to throw functional stoneware pots, and fell in love with clay.  I continued with my academic major of anthropology, but minored in art.  After college I pursued pottery on and off through the years until I became a full time artist when my children were in high school and college.  I gave my children the same opportunities to play with simple art projects all through their childhood, like my mother gave me.   Her gift of creative encouragement planted many seeds within me, and I harvest them every day now.  I have never doubted my talents, because she believed in me and gave me all that I needed to express myself freely.

Frida & Diego Skull Travel Mug
MBS:  It's interesting that you mention your major in anthropology because I've always noticed that the belief systems of different cultures are predominately reflected in your work.  For example your pottery is not just functional pottery.  It's much more then that. The same with your Day of the Dead work.  What are your thoughts on that?

PattyMara:  Anthropology came into my life through a wonderful teacher, who worked in Guatemala. My first class with her in college hooked me to the mesmerizing study of other cultures.  What galvanized my attention was the shared role of ceremony, story and art.  From Inuit shaman masks to Spiro Mound clay effigy pipes to rock art petroglyphs, all of them were connected to ceremony and story.  I romped through anthropology classes at UC Santa Cruz, concurrent with learning to be a potter.  Perhaps that is the first connection of the two strands in my life.  Later I learned that pottery shards last for centuries and remain to tell the story of their people, long gone.  My love for anthropology and pottery has remained entwined.

Ceremony plays a big part in my life, and I found its source in the early matriarchal cultures, when the Great Mother, the divine feminine, reigned, long before the patriarchal Father God(s).  My work reflects the celebration of the turning wheel of the seasons and the remembering ceremonies, like Day of the Dead.  My teapots made of New Mexican mica clay mirror the Yixing teapots of the Sung Dynasty (also made of burnished mica clay).  My painted silks are gilded with words from Rumi, O'Donohue and the Dalai Lama.  All of it nourishes my soul and hopefully will nourish others as well.

Mica Clay Blessing Bowl
MBS:  You really do have an intense love for mica clay. How and when did you discover it?
As a material, how does it differ from working with clays, such as stoneware or porcelain for example?

PattyMara:  You are right.  I do have an intense love for mica clay.  I discovered it in 2008, when I traveled to New Mexico and stayed at Felipe Ortega's Owl Peak Pottery and B & B (found on a random internet search, what good fortune! While staying there, I watched Felipe make a mica cook pot by hand and he cautioned me about the clay, saying "Once you touch this clay, you will never want to work with any other."  He spoke the truth.  I ordered a hundred pounds of his clay to be mailed back to my home in California.  Most mica clay artist handbuild, using the coil and scrape method of the traditional pueblo pottery traditions.  But I've been a wheel potter for forty years, and even though folks here are surprised that I use my wheel, it is just what comes naturally for me.

Micaceous clay differs from other clays in that it is "shorter", less plastic, and it just feels so good to work with energetically.  This clay emerged from ancient clay deposits here in northern New Mexico, was dug with reverent, respectful prayers and it resonates with Mother Earth's song.  Throwing it on my wheel and burnishing the surfaces for hours with a stone is like entering a spirit-infused meditation with an old wise Grandmother. What's not to like? 

Finished mica clay pottery is sturdy and useful as cookware, ovenware and for everyday enjoyment.  I like to make functional pottery, elevating each meal to a feast of gratitude and communion.  I believe finding mica clay back at Felipe's studio is what started the magical journey for me and my husband to find a new home in New Mexico after he retired.  It cast a spell of enchantment, and I am so grateful!

Buddha Mica Teapot
MBS:  As you mentioned, you relocated to New Mexico fairly recently from being in California for many years.  How are you finding the creative community in NM and how has the move impacted your artwork?

PattyMara:  We just celebrated our first full year of living here in northern New Mexico.  I participated in the Pilar Studio Tour last year, three weeks after unloading our moving truck because one of my new neighbors encouraged me early on to do the tour.  Crazy, after the rigors of packing and moving, but the tour was a magnificent success for me.  This year I joined the team to organize the tour, and will be setting up my display in the next few days.  I have found the art community here to be numerous in numbers and warmly welcoming in attitude.  Within a few months of relocating, I found a gallery shop in Taos, Coyote Moon, which has actively promoting and selling my Day of the Dead ceramics.  Additionally, I've been included in two group shows of women artists, including one at Ghost Ranch (a great honor to me to see my fiber art hanging near the landscape where Georgia O'Keeffe painted).  Both shows were successful in sales, but more importantly, gave me the gift of new friendships with women. 

Mice Wedding Cake Topper
How has our move has impacted my art?  At first blush I would say:  red willow and nuno felting.  I signed up for a one day willow basket weaving class in a nearby town.  The baskets I made introduced me to red willow, which grows everywhere here ('Taos' translates in the pueblo language as 'people of the red willow').  Though I won't ever be a famous basket maker I did enjoy getting to know this native plant.   Then I took a felting class from a new woman friend and discovered how much I love working with wool fibers on silk.  My 20 years with silk painting has given me a familiarity with silk, but layering the wisps of wool, alpaca and cashmere rovings to a silk ground and then felting them to form a completely new fabric, well, that's just too wonderful for words.  I make frames from bound willow branches to stretch and stitch my nunofelted pieces, and what emerges is a feather light ethereal piece, born from this land and celebrating the sky.  

I have always worked in many media (often critiqued by the 'art world' experts as unfocussed).  I pay them no mind.  It's just how I feel the creative urge expressing itself.  A three or four week concentration on mica pottery production may be followed by two or three weeks of silk painting or nuno felting or beading or collaging or messing around with fabric. Each foray has its own gift of discovery and fulfillment.  I am excited to begin each project, and I learn something new each time.  And, to be honest, I just love the collection of art supplies that I *need* to have on hand.  The clay, silks, willow, handmade papers, fabric swatches, collage ephemera, dyes, paints and fibers sooth and infuse me with creative sparks.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

Cherry Blossom Twilight NunoQuilted Silk Scarf
MBS:  There are a lot of people who might not be acquainted with nunofelting.  Can you explain what it is?

PattyMara:  Nuno felting is a fabric technique developed by Polly Stirling, a fiber artist from New South Wales, Australia, around 1992. The name is derived from the Japanese word "nuno" meaning cloth. The technique bonds loose fiber, usually carded unspun wool roving (it looks like a fluffy cloud) onto a sheer open weave fabric such as silk gauze, creating a completely new fabric that is bonded by the felting action of the wool. The fibers can completely cover the background silk, or they may be used as a decorative design that allows the silk to show. Nuno felting often incorporates several layers of loose fibers combined to build up color, texture, and/or design elements in the finished fabric.  I also like to add other elements between the layers of roving such as wild silk fibers, called tussah silk, mohair curls, cashmere and other elements like ribbons, yarns and torn recycled silk saris. 

I created a body of work which I called NunoNebulae for my group fiber arts show at Ghost Ranch last spring.  I found my inspiration in the amazing photographs of nebulae taken by the Hubble space telescope and other NASA sources.  I layered different colors of wool rovings over black silk guaze, leaving much of the black silk exposed to represent the far reaches of space.  Felting all of the layers involves wetting the whole shebang with warm soapy water, then rolling it up in textured layers of bubble wrap and  bamboo sushi mats (for big pieces I use a bamboo sun shade).  Then the work begins:  rolling (with hands, forearms, elbows and feet) unrolling, rolling in the opposite direction, and finally "throwing" or slamming the big wet mess of silk and wool down onto a hard surface like a deep sink.  Al of this aerobic exercise is done to encourage tiny hooks within the wook fibers to grab onto the silk gauze and marry itself permanently to create a whole new bonded fabric.  kind of like a relationship, eh?  After is felted my NunoNebulae, I sewed tiny beads and crystals in the places where the stars actually are, to catch sparkles of light, then stretched and stitched them onto the red willow frames.

MBS:  I enjoy working with a variety of mixed media materials too in my work, so I understand and appreciate the discovery and exploration you described.  In working in a variety of mediums what have you discovered about yourself, both as a person and an artist?

Quan Yin Silk Meditation Banner

PattyMara:  It reveals my Aries nature!  Always looking for a new adventure, a new learning experience.  I like to think that I integrate each learning curve that a new technique requires into the accumulated knowledge from my past.  But really, I just like exploring unknown territory.  I don't mind making mistakes, because they hold big rewards as I learn how to correct and apply what I know to what I didn't know before I made the 'mistake'.  Also, I get to gather new materials, and that brings me such delight.  I probably won't ever just work in one medium, but who knows?  Anything can happen.

MBS:   How does spirituality play a role in your work and as an artist?

PattyMara:  Spirituality is nothing complicated for me.  It is who I am, how I navigate in the multileveled worlds of body (the physical), mind (the mental) and spirit (my Soul essence, the multifaceted being that is both me and All that Is).  I can't separate spirituality out of anything I am or I do.  It permeates, infuses and surrounds.  No separation, no distinction.  So when I take a walk up the dirt road beyond our land, and happen upon a basalt boulder covered with old petroglyphs (800 - 4000 years old!) pecked into the rock surface, I can sense the presence of the original artists who made them, the sagebrush still growing nearby which may have spread its fragrance to them as it does to me as I stand in the warming air.  I recognize without words or knowing the meaning of these symbols that they are numinous artifacts, still brimming with energy.     Mica clay has its own energy signature too, in addition to being sturdy, practical and beautiful.  It is infused with an angelic presence for me, who seems to like the name Micah...and this angelic being comes when asked and brings deep healing and other gifts.  I don't know how I know these things, they just appear naturally, and I simply breathe it all into my my heart with appreciation and awe.  I'm reminded of the Van Morrison album (best played loudly) "No Guru, no Method, no Teacher..."

Silk Wall Hanging
MBS:  What is a typical work day like for you?

PattyMara:  I wake up early, always have...I love the silence of dawn.  I've found that the first things I do in the morning are precious, important.  When I'm just fresh out of my dreaming time, I can access all that non-physical information more fully if I pay attention then.  So I make coffee and sit in silence, a sort of meditation, and a sprinkling of Reiki distant healing that I send out to my tribe around the country.  The images and emotions and perceptions that come through are different then, than any other time of my day.  I'll often open my journal to write or sketch.  All the while I'm mostly looking out the window watching the birds at the feeders nearby, the hummingbirds at their nectar bottles, the light changing on the Sangre de Cristos.  then I walk with my yearling pup Rio, either around our land and orchard to check in with the trees and the clouds, or up the road into the wild places.  Often my husband and I go fishing early too.  The Rio Grande flows just down the road, and that big mama river is always fun to fish or swim or walk along, full of heart rocks too. 

Next I check my online shops (I have four) for sales, and write down the orders on a running list I keep on a clipboard next to my desk calendar.  Read my email and Facebook.  I try to spend no more than an hour doing this morning check-in, otherwise "screen time" devours my day. 

Whatever orders I have to fill, I take care of them right away, packaging and labeling and printing postage.  Then I continue working on whatever project is in process.  One trick I've learned over the years is that when I am working on a piece, I leave a fun part undone the night before, so that I can jump right in with vigor the next morning to keep the ball of energy rolling...otherwise pieces get stuck, unfinished.  For example, I left the final embellishment of some silk banners I was working on last night, unfinished, so this morning, I was enthusiastic about finishing them with ribbons, bells, beads.  It's the fun part. 

I work until I get hungry, then make a meal usually from my greenhouse garden of lettuce and basil and tomatoes.  It gets me outside again and into the air.  I love hanging laundry outside on my clothesline, so often I'll do that too.  I have to mix up my indoor art making with being outside.  I have to, or I get antsy.  My eyes need to have a long view to rest on, after doing detail painting work or beading or screen time. 

It goes on like that through the day until about 6 pm, when I go downstairs to start dinner and watch the sunset.

Namaste Wall Hangings
MBS:  What prompted you to sell your work online?   How has social networking impacted your sales and visibility as an artist?

PattyMara:  I opened my first online shop in early 2008 on Etsy after I read in a magazine that an artist made a piece, listed in her Etsy shop and sold it within 15 minutes.  Yikes!  I want to do that too, says me.  So I did.  I had to learn a whole range of new skills including photographing my art and learning the search engine language and tagging/packaging and customer relations.  Within a year, I discovered 1000 Markets, and though that site was later sold, it opened up my world to online cooperation and communication and collaboration with hugely talented artists who formed markets together and promoted one another.  I learned so many new skills, and continue to this day to correspond and collaborate with many of them.  The Mind Body Spirit Marketplace was one of those markets, and it is still alive and well, evolving daily, thanks to your attention Diane.

Social networking has made an enormous impact on my sales and visibility as an artist.  And for me, it's all Facebook.  I don't get the tweet thing.  Facebook has provided me with an online customer base as well as a connection to my California customers who I used to sell to in person.  I will often post photographs of a work in progress on Facebook before listing it in my online shops, and often will make a sale just from that first posting.  I've gotten wholesale orders from galleries as well.  I don't have tons of friends on Facebook, but I add a few a week, steady as she goes, and try to keep from getting immersed in it during my workday. But I do check it from time to time during the day. I don't have a smart phone (no cell service out here in the boonies).  Both of my adult children refuse to accept my Facebook friend requests.  Oh well.  They still call me occasionally (from their iphones).

MBS:  That's just too funny... adult children and Facebook!  What are you currently working on and what would you like to explore next?

PattyMara:  I'm currently working on a shrine for Our Lady of Perpetual Chocolate, for my Pilar Studio Tour this coming weekend.  I have always loved the Dark Madonnas, some of them ancient, all of them potent.  I wrote a poem prayer to her, and will have copies of it available at the shrine, as well as many nice chocolates in her honor.  I've put up an altar for her every year of my studio tour (this is my tenth year: 8 in CA and 2 in NM) but this year I'm making a nicho (a painted wooden shrine in the tradition of the santeros here in New Mexico).

What I will explore next:  after the tour, we're going fishing and camping near the San Juan River, where there are "quality trout waters".  That's all I want to do after the tour.  Then, who knows?  With the weather turning crisper, I'll be doing more nunofelting for sure. 

MBS: Is there any advice you have for those who wish to (seriously) pursue an artistic path?
PattyMara:  Learn all you can, whenever the opportunity presents itself.  Take classes, workshops, seminars from other artists.  AND, Be self-taught.  Find out what sparks your interest and follow the trail as far as it takes you.  Make mistakes.  Find ways to "save" your mistakes especially if it uses non-conventional methods.  Break the rules. Make up new ones, or not.  Support other artists that you meet along the way, by buying their art.  Collaborate with other artists, even if they live across the country.  Make it work (at Tim says).  Pay attention to your dreams.  And this is especially for women like me, who raised their children while working either at home, or in an occupation that made money to support their family.  To all you women wanting to pursue an artistic path after your children are grown:  Go for it.  Go for broke.  You have so many skills, artistic and otherwise that you honed every single day by being a mom.  Use them and have a blast doing it.  Spread your wings. 

~ Great advice!  Thank you PattyMara!

You can find PattyMara Gourly's artwork online at Etsy and Zibbet.  The article she wrote for The Mind Body Spirit Odyssey about The Day of The Dead can be found here.

Additional interviews from the Mind Body Spirit Artist Series:
Ben Isaiah
Emily Balivet
Laura Milnor Iverson
Joanne Miller Rafferty
Jude McConkey
Atmara Rebecca Cloe 
Alison Fennell
Fernanda Gonzalez

Follow our daily updates for the Mind Body Spirit Marketplace on Facebook


  1. Sacajaweeeea! Thank you, Diana, for the opportunity to talk about myself and my artist path. It is a surreal experience to read it, and humbling. To all other readers, please forgive my many typos(my English Major Mother is rolling in her grave, but she is also smiling).

  2. If there are any typos, it's probably just my superb editing skills at work! You're welcome PattyMara...the pleasure was mine. :)

  3. What a treat to learn more about PattyMara Gourley and her amazing work! This was an absolutely wonderful, engaging, and inspiring interview. Thanks to both of you!

  4. Diane, thank you! What a wonderful interview with PattyMara - who continues and will always be a huge inspiration to me. Like a big giant breath of fresh air, wrapped in smiles and love, enveloping the biggest heart ever.

  5. I treasured every word. Thank you PattyMara and Diane!

  6. "Throwing it on my wheel and burnishing the surfaces for hours with a stone is like entering a spirit-infused meditation with an old wise Grandmother. What's not to like?"
    -Love this!

  7. wow - what a great interview. so inspiring. Patty Mara - I love your work (especially the poem-books - but all of it really). diane & pattymara - thanks so much for this window into an artist's life!!!

  8. Fabulous interview. I really enjoyed getting to "know" PattyMara better and really related to her typical day. Mine is similar when I can achieve it and I'm always happier when I do! Thank you Diane for a great job as always. And thank you PattyMara for sharing your life and art!

    Julie Magers Soulen Photography



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Artist,Writer, Jewelry Design