Working with Gourds

 

The first year I was introduced to gourds I tried to grow them myself, but was not satisfied with the results. I found the gourd shell to be too thin for the kind of work I like to do with gourds. It was explained to me that the growing season is too short in Maine, so I decided to leave the growing and drying process up to the experienced and concentrate on the art work. At present, I obtain my gourds from a grower in Missouri.

Fully matured in the field, gourds are about 90% water. To work with a gourd they must be completely dried. During the drying time, evaporation of the interior water comes through to the outer shell. This slow process (usually anywhere from several months to one year), dries as a dark mold on the gourd surface. This is where most beginners make a mistake and throw the gourd away, thinking that the gourd has rotted.

I receive most of the gourds in the dried, moldy coated stage and then my work begins. Each gourd is soaked and the mold removed. Patience is needed above all else with this process as now the gourd needs to dry, a day to be safe, cutting it too soon creates the risk of the gourd cracking.

The gourd is then cut open using various cutting tools, depending on its size and shape. Once opened, the inside seeds and the dried pulp are cleaned out. The interior is then sanded and washed, and of course, dried for another period of time.

I personally like to burn the designs into the shell of the gourd creating different effects depending on the type of burning tool and my decision on the depth of the burn.

For color I have found dyes to be my choice, instead of paints, as the dyes let the natural patterns of the gourd shell show through, enhancing the design.

Today I use various natural materials to make the rims and other decorations on the individual pieces. Sweetgrass, seagrass, pineneedles and at times beads of turquoise and coral are used. I have progressed into carving on the gourd shell. I also use inlaid stones to complete some designs.

A sealer is used as the final step in completing each piece of what we gourd artists call "Mother Nature's Pottery".

 

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