Ancient Body Art comes to life in LaBelle

(Caloosa Belle/Dale Conyers) Ashley Gitchel works on an original henna design on Sydney Pope during Downtown Live.

You may have seen the beautiful, young artist, Ashley Gitchel, of Sweet Iris Designs, applying her beautiful and original henna designs last Friday, October 4, at LaBelle’s first “Downtown Live.” She has been working with henna for around five years, first discovering it on a camping trip and eventually obtaining her own henna cone at an Indian Bazaar in Ft. Myers.

Born in Michigan, but having spent most of her life here in the South, she grew up as a homeschool student. Now just 19 years old, she was able to earn her Nutritional Therapy Practitioner certification last year, and has just recently kicked off her henna art business right here in LaBelle.

“I spent more than a few weeks with my hands and feet covered in henna,” she laughs as she recalls learning the ins and outs of the craft. “A few years later, I started hearing about people having allergic reactions to henna paste and decided that I needed to be able to make my own, so I did. I did some research and made it through 5 or 6 different recipes before I finally found one I liked.” She cannot divulge her personal recipe, of course, but says, “The process of preparing the henna paste takes about two days and involves natural henna powder, lemon juice, essential oil and sugar.”

Henna, a sort of temporary tattoo, has been used for creating beautiful body art for centuries, by the people of ancient Egypt and India. It is still used for religious ceremonies, wedding festivals, and for simple body adornment. The dye comes from a small Henna tree, whose leaves contain a pigment which stains skin. A paste is applied to your skin in whatever design the artist chooses for you, and as it dries it turns dark brown. After a few hours, the paste is removed revealing an initial bright orange stain that gradually oxidizes to a dark red-brown after two days.

“My favorite part about henna is probably the way designs tend to evolve in the process of actually applying it,” she explains, “When I do a design on someone, I love to try to pick up on their personality and style and tweak the design to suit them. I like people and I like making them feel special and my art helps me do that. Henna has been used in a few different cultures and for different reasons.”

She goes on to say, “Designs can have many different meanings when used ceremonially, but one of my favorite tidbits that I have learned about the history of henna is how nomad tribes in the desert would use it to stay cool. They would cover the bottoms of their feet and the palms of their hands in henna, and it would keep them cool for as long as they had the pigmentation from the dye on their skin.”

When asked about what inspires her, she replies, “The only way I can really answer that is to say my gifts and talents are not my own. It sounds a little dramatic, but let me explain. I would be completely useless without God moving and working in my life. Everything that I am and everything that I can do is because of His mercy, grace, and love in my life.”

If you are looking to schedule an individual session or maybe a fun henna party, the lovey and talented Ashley can be reached at sweet.iris.henna@gmail.com

Downtown Live is a really exciting, new, first Friday event that features a free street concert, food, drinks, vendors, games, art, and more- all organized by the LaBelle Downtown Revitalization Corporation and sponsored by Hendry County Tourism, City of LaBelle, Riverside Real Estate, Cox AC, BMF Electric Inc, Forrey Grill, and Oak Electric. Downtown Live will be held on the first Friday of each month from 6-9 p.m. on Fort Thompson Avenue, between Bridge St and Main St. The featured band for November’s “Bee Thankful” themed event will be Ramblin’ Rose Trio, and Forrey Grill will have a signature drink for the event that is yet to be announced.

Danika can be reached at dhopper@newszap.com

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