Gateway to Hell: Exploring an Ecological Mystery

"Gateway to Hell" -Darvaza gas crater. Photo credit: Tormod Sandtorv CC BY-SA 2.0 (Creative Commons)
“Gateway to Hell” – Darvaza gas crater. Photo credit: Tormod Sandtorv CC BY-SA 2.0 (Creative Commons)

Scrolling through the internet for a research project late one night, I came across this jaw-dropping photo that practically took my breath away.

When I read the accompanying story, I learned it was a massive flaming gas crater in the middle of a desert in Turkmenistan nicknamed the “Gateway to Hell.”

Conflicting stories abound as to how the crater burst into flames more that 50 years ago and continues to burn today despite numerous attempts to put out the fire.

One of the most popular theories is that Soviet geologists intentionally set it on fire in 1971 to prevent the spread of methane gas. (It is located on one of the largest gas reserves in the world.) But to date, it seems no one knows really how it started.

Within seconds of encountering the image, I knew I had to explore it further as an artist and an environmentalist. How can something so beautiful be so destructive? And if human error is indeed to blame, will we correct it? How?

The Darvaza crater bears such a striking resemblance to my gilded gourdwork that I immediately set out in search of the largest gourd I could find that would be able to hold all the powerful Fire Energy I’d be working with for this project. Taking a deep breath….

Dried Gourds
Photo credit @Serena Kovalosky

April 14, 2022
There’s nothing more exciting than a new stash of gourds! Expecially BIG gourds!

In the search for the perfect gourd for my new project on the “Gateway to Hell,” I placed a phone order with Wuertz Gourd Farm in Arizona. “Send me the biggest, funkiest gourds you have” was my general criteria, with at least one of them with a low, flattened shape for the project. I received a HUGE box on my doorstep less than a week later with the most scrumptious gourds inside! (Thank you, Waylon Wuertz!) I lined them all up on the lawn to see which one might fit the project. Each one is more stunning than the next!

Then I received a message from Linda Biggers, a mosaic artist who was part of the Slate as Muse exhibition I curated years ago. She had a couple of large gourds that had been sitting in her studio for years, but she finally decided she’d never get around to working on them. When she heard I was looking for large gourds, she generously offered up her stash. (Hugs to you, Linda!) We met halfway between our two studios, enjoyed a fabulous lunch, and I happily drove home with two wonderful gourds in the back of my Kia.

Dried gourds in the back of a car
Photo credit @Serena Kovalosky

All of them have incredible potential, but there was one from Wuertz that was exactly what I was looking for: 17″ in diameter and flattened just enough to give me the shape and size I need. Plus it can hold all the Fire Energy I’ll be working with for this project.

Large dried gourd
Photo credit @Serena Kovalosky

Now to do some more research on the Darvasa Crater before I begin carving…

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