For thousands of years, civilizations across the globe have used gourds in their daily lives. The plant is not only a popular food source, but throughout human history its versatile shell has been transformed into a multitude of goods, including musical instruments, containers, and drinking vessels.
Many artists, like Judy Richie of Kerrville, see gourds as the ultimate canvas. When dried, their shells turn hard and hollow, inviting all kinds of creative experimentation, from sculpting and painting to staining, dying, and carving. Pumpkins are the prize of the gourd family every fall when families transform them with a host of disguises on Halloween. “You can do so many things with gourds,” Richie says. “Once you start working on them, they kind of take over.”
In Texas, there is perhaps no better place to see this versatility than the Lone Star Gourd Festival in Fredericksburg. The four-day event, held Sept. 29-Oct. 2 at the Gillespie County Fairgrounds & Exhibition Hall, is sponsored by the Texas Gourd Society, an organization that aims to educate the public about gourds. Adult admission is $5, and children under 12 are free. Attendees are afforded a diverse collection of gourd art for sale, along with classes and competitions for every skill level.
Richie has participated in the festival since 2003 and will lead her own classes this year on leaf carving and alcohol dying. Other instructors will teach ancient Peruvian carving traditions, pyrography techniques (pictured), and specific skills like laser cutting and stitching. While most artists and attendees are Texans, out-of-state visitors stop in every year, lured by the art form’s timeless quality and visual beauty.
The varying shapes, colors, and textures of gourds have inspired artists for generations. No two plants are exactly alike, and there is no limit to their decorative potential. Some artists use paints, dyes, stones, and beads, while others use strips of seagrass and cactus fiber, inlaid gemstones, and coiled pine needles.
“When people see gourd art for the first time they are just blown away,” Richie says. “Their mouths fall open.” For more information, visit texasgourdsociety.org.