Meet Marta Kelsey: Gourds

Most of my professional life has been spent in the field of adult education. When Dave retired from teaching, he turned to his long-time hobby of wood working and we got on the craft show “circuit”. One of our neighbors at a show introduced me to gourds … and I was hooked.  When I retired, I decided that if I was going to craft shows anyway, I should do my own thing. I've been “gourding” ever since.

I’m still not sure what it is about gourds that attract me to them. I just know that the first time I saw carved and decorated gourds, I was hooked. Each gourd is like the blank canvas of a painter except that instead of a stark white “nothing” you have the unique shape and character of the individual gourd as well as the tradition of thousands of years of gourd use and decorating whirling around the gourd.

Each gourd is different and I rarely know what I'm going to do with it until I begin. That's part of the fun. Gourds are a perfect outlet for all my previous years of dabbling with drawing, painting, and hand coloring photographs. I learn from every gourd I do and experimenting with different techniques is what makes it challenging and interesting.

I use a wide variety of techniques to finish my gourds. Some I paint, dye, color with alcohol inks or guilders paste. Some I draw on with pastels or ink. Some I carve with chisels or a power engraver. Some I cut into various shapes to make bowls, vases, and wall hangings. Some I turn into birds. Some I finish with sea grass, leather, shells, or beads. No two are alike.

Evidence of gourds has been found in Asia, Africa, Europe, South and North America dating back thousands of years. Gourds were used as vessels to store and carry water and grain before pottery was developed. They filled a very real need in ancient societies around the world. Their practical use evolved into being used for ceremonial purposes and the carving and decorating became more elaborate as each culture developed their own style. I find it very satisfying to carry on such a long tradition.