Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Gourdaphile and the Zen Spoon Master

Hungry Holler Art Center is tucked away in a quiet corner of Grand Lake in northeast Oklahoma.  You can find it by looking for the bicycles in the trees on the driveway and the large peace symbol that welcomes you in.  It is home to two of the most interesting and unique artists you will ever meet-Jan Meng, the Gourdaphile, and her husband, Marc Meng, The Zen Spoon Master.  In 1989, the Mengs bought a newspaper in Grove, Oklahoma and settled in the nearby community of Eucha.  After retiring from the newspaper business, they assumed their new identities.  Jan is an artist who shuns the canvas and clay.  She prefers to work with gourds and not just any gourds.  She really loves lagenaria siceraria gourds, large and lumpy specimens that soon sport comic features and bottle cap eyes.  
It's not that she hasn't tried to work with conventional art media.  She says, "In fact, my father is an artist and for a number of years he would send me a canvas for my birthday or Christmas.  He was always trying to paint on something white and flat.  And I’ll tell you what, flat and white is intimidating to me.  I need a curved surface with bumps and imperfections on it.  And I still have those canvases stacked up against a wall in my bedroom."
Jan and Mark grow the gourds in their yard and each year's crop is stockpiled until they become what they would be anyway if nature had Jan's imagination.  
In finding her medium, Jan also became a gourdaphile, an unapologetic champion for gourds. "They’re wonderful.  They’re like the world’s first Tupperware.  I like them because they are organic,  they’re useful.  They are eternal in human scale.  The ones you keep indoors can last thousands of years.  In fact, gourd using cultures consider them heirlooms and they pass them down through generations, their favorite gourds.  And that’s how I feel about them.  So if they’re going to be forever, I want them to be fabulous."
And fabulous they are!
The lawn at Hungry Holler is also an art gallery, strewn with Marc Meng's metal sculptures.  Box fans become large wind catchers that come alive when the breezes blow.  Other found objects are incorporated with small mirrors that change the artwork when sunbeams and reflections become part of the piece.  If it can be welded, soldered, wired, or otherwise connected, it can become art in Marc's clever hands.  Art festival goers, though, probably know Marc Meng by his other name, The Zen Spoon Master.
"The spoons got foisted on me," Marc says.  "Jan asked me to make her a spoon about 15 years ago.  And I was sculpting and as I was sitting making that spoon, I thought, this is the most boring, tedious thing I ever did.  Hope I don’t have to do this for a living.  And I’d say since then I’ve probably made 10 or 15-thousand spoons."
Marc uses more than 80 different kinds of wood, both common and exotic, to carefully create beautiful spoons, creations that are also utilitarian.  To alleviate the boredom, he also produces graceful and lovely wood sculptures, using the natural shapes, grains, and hues of the material to guide him.  After years of dealing with fact in the newspaper business, the Gourdaphile and The Zen Spoon Master have settled into a world of fantasy, turning gourds and blank wood into fanciful works of art.
Photos by Ron Stahl
Hungry Holler Website  


  1. He makes the best spoons. I got my favorite egg turner from him too.

  2. My favorite zen spoons are those he made from gun stocks ~ make cookie not war !