The buzz of chatter amongst gourd art fanatics mixed with the buzz of saws and woodburners at the annual Show-Me Gourd Art Festival.
The Show-Me Gourd Society is much like a secret society — the members have a bond that only fellow gourd artists understand. Michell Lemen, a member of the SMGS, has attended the festival three years in a row. She said that when she meets someone else who is into gourd art, she knows they will be friends.
Both members and fans look forward to the yearly festival hosted at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds, which brings in people from all over the country. Madonna Watermon, president of the SMGS and two-year Gourd Artist of the Year, said there is a national gourd society, which is broken into chapters. The SMGS is a chapter, and there are smaller “patches” within Missouri — groups of gourd artists that meet on a local level.
The festival consists of workshops taught by gourd artists from around the country, free demonstrations, vendors selling gourd art supplies and, of course, the fierce gourd art competition.
Gourds in every shape and size lined the competition tables. Watermon said there are different types of gourds — some are fruits, some are vegetables and some are inedible. Gourds have even been used throughout history. She said Native Americans used them as both cooking utensils and bowls.
“That’s why I like them so much — because they’re so versatile,” Watermon said.
The wood-like texture of gourds enables them to be used in many ways. Watermon said art techniques for gourds include painting, woodburning and carving.
This variety was displayed at the competition. Some gourds were carved with intricate precision, while others were delicately painted or embellished with other materials, like beads. Animals, gemstones, globes, necklaces, flowers and countless other creative expressions graced the tables.
Kevin Oelklaus, a member of the Kansas City patch and winner of three distinguished awards for his gourd art, said he is continually amazed at the variety gourds offer.
“There’s no limit to what you can do with a gourd,” Oelklaus said. “If you can imagine it, you can create it.”
The complex gourd art pieces were surrounded by bins of plain gourds for sale. These gourds, yet to be transformed into works of art, show where the process starts. They have already been dried, which Oelklaus said can take up to a year.
Lemen attended one of the workshops at the festival. While working on turning a gourd into a sea turtle, carver in hand, she said it is important to wear a respirator while working with gourds. Breathing in too much gourd dust can lead to health problems.
Once your respirator is on, she said the first step in the process is scraping the mold off of the gourd, which can be accomplished by burying it in potting soil or sanding. Getting all the mold off is a crucial step, as the gourd should be as smooth as possible before the artwork begins.
After that, the seeds on the inside must be removed, just like when carving a pumpkin, before the gourd is ready to go. Once the gourd is clean, it’s time for the fun part. Artists can transform it into anything they envision using paint, carvers, woodburners or any other medium available.
Marla Garber, one of the workshop instructors, said she has been into gourd art for eighteen years now. For those interested in gourd art, she said it is not as difficult as it may seem.
She had one piece of advice.
“Just do it,” Garber said.