Qcc Artist Directory

Elizabeth (Betsy) Irwin

About the Art

Betsy Irwin prefers working in 3 dimensions. Her personal artwork has been expressed mostly through gourds and hand-built ceramics. Most of what she exhibits today is work with gourds. She creates contemporary art as well as ritual and utilitarian objects from this oldest plant intentionally grown by humans. Throughout history, gourds have been made into bottles, bowls, baskets, dippers, dolls, birdhouses, jewelry, ornaments, and musical instruments.

Her use of metal leaf on gourds, particularly when it’s flashed, along with staining all of the gourd’s interior and sections of the exterior black are reminiscent of Raku, her favorite type of pottery. “It just gives the vessel and ancient, earthy feel.” People tend to stereotype all gourd work as craft. She must frequently explain that, “Yes, I paint gourds, but I also cut and carve them, wood burn, sand and stain them, and, frequently, I like to apply metal leafing on sections of my work as well.”

Her designs are often determined by a gourd’s attributes and how it “speaks” to her. “For instance,” says Betsy, “When I start a sculptural basket, I look for a much thicker gourd, one able to withstand the torque of its handle as it twists up the top of the piece (see Stairway to Heaven). Sometimes I have a particular plan in mind (see What a Tangled Web We’ve Woven); most times the gourd has ideas of its own.” When she moved out west, she discovered many similar symbols to those she had experience in the U.S. Southeast, altered somewhat through space and time, but essentially with the same meanings. Many of these symbols represent important aspects of the cosmos. Many of the designs on her sculptural gourds are abstracted forms of the four elements (air, fire, water and earth) intertwined with spiritual symbols and creatures that appear as she starts penciling on the vessel.

After acquiring basic technical knowledge, she learned to grow gourds and had amassed over 1,000 of them by the time she moved to New Mexico. “I still want to return to pottery — I just need to use up most of these gourds first!”

“If we choose wisely, this planet can give us all we need for EVERYTHING on it to thrive,” she says. “The global society we live in tends to separate us from nature, ignoring that we are irrevocably intertwined with it. We’ve forgotten many simpler, more earth friendly ways. I hope my art provides a good example of how ancient and modern technologies can be intertwined, and offer solutions for many of the problems we’ve created by inadvertently distancing ourselves from source.”


Betsy was born in Waco, Texas and grew up in families working for the military. Growing up, she lived abroad in Germany and the Philippine Islands; her traveling exposed her to different cultures and environments, giving her a comfort and appreciation for living and working within new cultures. This varied experience also gave her an opportunity to study art in museum settings at an early age. Around age 8, my mother began dropping me and my brother at The National Mall to tour the Smithsonian museums while she shopped.

She discovered clay as an artistic medium at age 6, after spotting the perfect mud puddle on a walk to school. It had just the right consistency to form little animals and pots while the tardy bell rang, after which with a soggy dress and painted brown, she did not stop and until the last bell rang, and she finally walked home, trying to think of an excuse for her behavior.

She was young when she started creating art, then studied art in college and utilized her art skills throughout the “career” phase of her life. Betsy attended the New College Program at the University of Alabama, receiving a Bachelor’s degree with a double major in Fine Arts and Anthropology. It was during the 90s that the late, renowned Alabama gourd artist, Ethel Owens, taught her how to make gourds into useful objects. Betsy has taught hundreds of students gourd work.

Betsy’s work has strong spiritual symbolism that’s grown over the years. From an anthropology perspective, she began studying Southeastern native pottery in undergraduate school. Her first job in archaeology was at a very large, ancient and incredibly well-preserved sacred site under the stewardship of the University of Alabama. While working, she continued Masters studies focused on the Southeast’s prehistoric iconography – the study of symbols and their meaning.

She learned a lot from studying fragments of the past and learned even more from the many native artists she interacted with over the years, especially shell carver Dan Townsend, whose traditional knowledge continues to inspire her. Dan and a very special mentor, Dr. F. Kent Reilly (who helped crack the Mayan Code with Dr. Linda Schele) revealed how many indigenous spiritual beliefs parallel theories in quantum physics.

Betsy Irwin’s first love in art will always be clay. Betsy states, “The thickness of the clay allowed me carve lines and shapes shallow or deep, and I often bored holes through the vessel. I frequently deconstructed geometric shapes and patterns; flowing them around these small pots.” Making intricately carved sculptural pots, thickly pinched from balls of clay, strongly influences her work today. Betsy landed in the Questa area in 2017, seeking a simpler life, one centered on spiritually, nature, and making art.


Elizabeth (Betsy) Irwin
HC 81 Box 6028
575 586-2273

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