Gourds Go from Garden to Art Canvas

Charlotte Durrence, Gourd Artist
Charlotte Durrence's backyard in Springfield, Georgia looks much like that of any other caring grandmother.  There's ample green space to run and play, shady trees and manicured landscaping. She's hung pretty birdhouses and listens to the gurgle of a decorative fountain. After visiting with her and touring around the place a bit, it's evident she shares her artistic passion with the grandchildren and others.  The yard includes an open air shed full of drying gourds, plus an air-conditioned workshop for painting gourds. Despite an entire house full of decorated gourd items, Durrence is proudest of the shelf that holds gourds her grandchildren have painted themselves.  

Grandkids' Gourds
Durrence is currently involved in what you might call a crafting project to turn dozens of tiny gourds into animal-shaped Christmas tree ornaments for charity. She gave us a gorgeous little frog ornament to take home.  But as Durrence explains in her own words, there's a difference between crafts and art, and she crossed that line long ago.  "We do still have crafters, and there's a fine line between the two.  But we have finally got the art world to accept gourds as an artform."

Gourd Art by Charlotte Durrence
Yes, Durrence explains, her passion is about gourd art.  "It's a wonderful canvas because there are no two alike, and you can do almost anything to it.  You can woodburn it, paint it with oil, use acrylics, use watercolor pencils.  There's so many different dyes, all the natural dyes, then all the manmade dyes, leather dyes, we use a lot of leather dye products.  In carving, so many tools are being made now that work great on carving gourds, just tremendous different things you can do with them.  And we're real blessed that God gave us a canvas like this that is so unusual, that is so interesting to people."

Durrence's faith has clearly inspired one of her favorite pieces of art, the cross etched delicately along with a floral motif.  She says she began years ago making simple seasonal pieces like scarecrows and snowmen.  Then the complexity of her artistic endeavors grew along with demand for her work.  She went from giving finished items to friends, to building a cottage industry.  Some of her pieces combine basketry with other techniques.  She dyes pine needles to create a material she can coil around part of a black walnut shell, adding rich textural interest to a piece.

Durrence enjoys teaching others how to turn gourds into artwork, and is very involved in the Gourd Retreat-Southern Style, Georgia Gourd Society, and Society of Decorative Painters.  She'll be participating in an artists' gathering of the American Gourd Society the first weekend in June in Cherokee, North Carolina.

Durrence's friend, Laraine Short, was visiting the week of our interview, and Durrence made sure that I showcased some of her work, as well.  Short is president of the Florida Gourd Society and lives with her husband in the Ponte Vedra area.  Scheduling kept me from being able to stay longer, or Durrence would have included us in dinner with even more gourd artists who would soon be gathering at her place.

Laraine Short, Pres. FL Gourd Soc.
I'm sure the Southern cooking would have been good, but gourd would not have been on the menu. Durrence says she knows of some cultures that cook and eat the gourds, and the vegetable is not bitter. "But I've tasted it just so I could answer this question, and while they're green they taste like squash, which is not good until you put salt and pepper and some of that bacon fat in it!"

Meticulous detail goes into many of the pieces that gourd artists make, with surprisingly varied styles. Durrence seems to enjoy the social component of the gourd art world as much as any of it.  "All the new people, all the new friends I've made from being involved with it. I've taught classes all over the country from California to Kentucky to Indiana, and Florida and everywhere and the best part of all of it is the people you meet."

Gourd Growing & Precautions

Gourd History & Utility

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