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Burnt and Painted Images


Gene McCoy

The "Coyote Melon" (Cucurbita Palmata) is a member of the Gourd Family that includes cucumbers, squash and pumpkins. It is a common wild plant throughout the Mojave Desert. Like other gourds, the plant spreads out for several feet, with stems sometimes reaching 10 feet. Leaves are large, dark green in color and palmately lobed. (Palmate leaves have three or more divisions or lobes, looking like the outspread fingers of a hand.) The plant usually has both male and female yellow flowers. The female flower is the larger with a 5-lobed pistil; the male flower is smaller. In a booklet about the flora of the Mojave, the National Park Service says that cucurbita are a favorite food of the coyote, hence the common name of "Coyote Melon." However, an old "Desert Rat" friend of mine tells me that when a nursing mother Coyote wants to wean her pups she rubs her belly over the plant. The plant is so bitter that it leaves her nipples with the taste and thereafter the pups avoid her. Having worked with the gourds I think the latter is correct. The gourds have a terrible taste.

Cucurbita Palmata

In the photograph above one melon can be seen hiding under the leaves. Below is a specimen of a still immature, green, melon.

A still green "coyote melon"

Once matured under the relentless baking of the Mojave sun the melon may reach 4 inches in diameter and turns to a yellow hard shelled gourd as shown in the photo below.

A sunbaked gourd

With a bit of wire brushing and sandpaper the gourd is smoothed to a slick hard surface upon which I paint or burn images of typical Native American rock art symbols and pottery maze patterns as shown in the following photos

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Burned Images on Finished Gourds

The inspiration for these images of women come from a Miembres bowl 1025 - 1150 AD.

Inspired by Miembres Bowl

The original images are shown below:

Original Miembres Images

Just as these Miembres images served as the model for my burned melons, so, too was I inspired by the 1250 AD Hohokam potter who created the plate beside my own burned gourd below:

Melon on L. Inspired by Hohokam Bowl on R.

In my evolution in working with "Coyote Melons" I started by painting the images and later went to burning with a woodburning tool. The later is more efficient and gives an appearance to the finished product that is more appealing, or at least different. I have selected a few examples of painted melons that are presented below. The themes are the same, pottery mazes and the waterbird.

If the fruit of the cucurbita palmata does not become a snack for a foraging coyote it either rots or dries and disintegrates to become part of the process of birth, death and renewal that is the timeless cycle in the desert. I am probably one of the few people who takes the "Coyote Melon" out of this process and into the world of "Art in the Park." The next time you attend an arts and crafts fair look for my "Southwest Images" site where I display my burned melons and mobiles. To see what my current work looks like go to my site for Taller Sudoeste de Calabzas y Mobiles

Gene McCoy August 2000

2000 Comments and Criticism Welcome


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