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Fall Flavors Artisan Foods Local Cookbooks Calabash! Golfing Around Wine Neighborhoods A Sonoma West Magazine | Fall 2011

Spend an afternoon celebrating harvest season and explore the art inspired by a singular crop.

A Festival of All Things

Gourd Story by Robin Hug Photography by Sarah Bradbury

Marking its 11th year this October, Calabash is a celebration of art, the earth and community. 14 Fall 2011

If you can picture a garden filled with people wearing hats and jewelry made of gourds, eating from gourd platters and listening to music played on gourd instruments, then you can imagine what it is like to attend the annual fall festival called Calabash. Although the name Calabash sounds like a clever new way to describe a party, it is in fact the proper term for a type of gourd in the Cucurbitaceous family. Marking its 11th year this October, Calabash is a celebration of art, the earth and community. Each year, more and more guests pour into Forestville to participate in the one-day event that offers a vast experience for the senses. “It is a festival of the gourd but it is also, in a bigger sense, a harvest

festival,” said Ellen Cheek, a local artist who has participated in the event since its creation. “Wine is being poured and you are being serenaded by musicians and it is heaven.” A large canopy is set-up outside of the Food for Thought Garden in Forestville to provide shade from the Indian summer sun where food and wine delights are passed and poured among the displays of art for sale. A silent auction offers an opportunity for art buyers to name their price for pieces small and large, expensive and moderate. This year, discover Daniel Berkman playing the kora, a gourd transformed into a 21-string instrument used widely throughout West Africa. Sometimes described as a cross between a harp and a guitar, the kora exudes blues notes and is played only with the thumbs and index fingers. Wear comfortable shoes, for this festival offers hours of entertaining sights to see and be sure to layer clothing, October in Sonoma County can be both warm and cool.



With the help of Food for Thought volunteers, the garden is filled with organic fruits, vegetables, flowers and medicinal and culinary herbs grown in a biodiverse landscape. Each year, the Sonoma County Aids Food Bank, Food for Thought, hosts the event on-site as their biggest fundraiser for the garden and the food program. The gourds that were harvested last fall will be used at this year’s event after spending the year drying out. Hundreds of gourds are grown at the Food for Thought garden among all of the other edibles. “The garden is a collaboration with the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center and all of starts come from there and the head gardener is the gardener here, and this event is way for us to really show off and feature the garden which is at its peak in October,” said FFT Deputy Executive Director Rachel Gardner. Calabash attendees are encouraged to explore the gardens and coordinated tours will also be given during the event.

More than 75 gourd artists will be featured at Calabash this year including many artists from Sonoma County’s biggest open studio art event, ARTrails, which will take place a few weeks later. Long-time gourd artist Micah Schwaberow’s work is featured on the Calabash poster this year and a full viewing of his art can been seen during ARTrails at his studio in Santa Rosa. Gourd art is one of the earliest known art mediums. Gourds transformed into hats, instruments and bowls act as functional art while statues, wall hangings and garden accessories will also be on display. Calabash will offer an array of art choices. “It is from the sublime to the ridiculous,” said Cheek. Ellen Cheek develops a different gourd idea each year. A jewelry maker during most of the year, she spends each summer thinking about what to do with gourds. She works from her converted-garage art studio, which no longer looks like a garage but a well-lit inspiration room with an abundance of art tools and supplies neatly held in their places. She listens to audio books Discoveries 15

and fingers through her gourds on a hot sunny day in order to develop a game plan letting her idea become specific before starting her work. “Everything I make for Calabash I make with the intention of just making waves; I want to win best of show and I want it to sell for hundreds of dollars and I want people to come and see my work, and it’s because I just love the food bank,” Cheek said. This year she is researching birdhouses, asking questions like what makes a good weather permeable birdhouse and how she can create them so that they are non-toxic, environmentally friendly and durable. “The quality and the imagination get better every year and it is a bigger show every year; it is only one day and it is magnificent and fleeting,” said Cheek.


Food for Thought, Sonoma County AIDS Food Bank, is a non-profit organization serving over 600 clients throughout Sonoma County. Since 1988, the food bank has been dedicated to providing comprehensive nutritional services for people with HIV and AIDS. FFT is the only food bank in the county that offers food grown from an on-site garden. Calabash is their biggest fundraiser and helps expand the garden development. Calabash is Sunday, October 2 from 1 to 5 p.m. at Food For Thought - Sonoma County AIDS Food Bank, 6550 Railroad Ave., Forestville. Advance tickets $45; $50 at the door. Ticket price includes food and wine and can be purchased online at

Ellen Cheek

Visit the Artists

Two of the gourd artists that participate in Calabash also put out the welcome mat to their studios during ARTrails, the annual open studios program that takes place two weekends every October: Micah Schwaberow 914 Beaver Ln., Santa Rosa Don Ajello 2257 Santa Fe Dr., Santa Rosa During ARTrails, art enthusiasts and collectors can travel from studio to studio, meeting artists in their workspace and view art for sale. ARTrails began in 1985 with a group of artists and has expanded to offer 133 open studios countywide this year. Mediums include everything from painting and photography to woodwork and sculpture. “I would like to encourage visitors to see it as a day trip that they can pack a picnic and choose a route from the catalog and really explore the back roads and make a day of it,” said Elaine Gutsch, Visual Arts Program Manager at the ARTS Council of Sonoma County. ARTrails catalogs can be found around the county at art supply stores, libraries and 16 Fall 2011

bookstores, or visit their web site at artrails. org for a directory of artists. A Preview Exhibit Opening Reception will be held at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts on September 24. ARTrails will run for two weekends, October 15 - 16 and 22 - 23, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There’s another open studios tour this season: North Coast Artists Guild’s Studio Discovery Tour. Now in its 19th year, this event takes place along a 50-mile stretch of the beautiful Sonoma-Mendocino coastline, from Sea Ranch to Albion/Little River. The self-guided Studio Discovery tour also features a catalog to assist in choosing which artists to visit. Along the route, bright yellow signs guide the way to the studios. There’s the added bonus of exploring the quaint and charming communities of Gualala and Mendocino, both of which are full of dining opportunities, art galleries and other attractions. This tour kicks off during Labor Day weekend, September 3 - 5, and continues September 10 - 11, between the hours of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, contact 785-9513 or visit

Gourds fall 2011  
Gourds fall 2011