Used by virtually every known culture as a container,
the tool, or musical instrument, the gourd is the oldest plant known to archaeologists around the world. Once a precious commodity every part of the gourd was used and the seeds were found to be very high in protein and an excellent source of oil. The fruit was eaten for food as well as the flower, root, and stem prepared for medicinal uses. Today, however, gourds are most often used for crafts, decorations at harvest time, and the hard-shell utilized for its artistic canvas.
The American Gourd Society has standardized the categories of the gourds and also helps maintain the genetic heritage between crafters and horticulturalists. Gourds are available in a wide variety of colors, shapes and textures. Hard-shell gourds are smooth in texture and are generally dark green to off-white with mottled patterns and an amazing array of shapes and sizes. Ornamental gourds are the easiest to grow and are bright in color and are most commonly found in grocery stores in the fall season.
Harvest the gourd by cutting it off the vine and giving it time to dry in a well ventilated area off the ground and uncovered. This process will take approximately 6 weeks to 3 or 4 months depending on the variety since the gourd can be composed of over 80 percent water. When dry, the outer skin of the gourd will become lighter and you can shake the gourd to see if the seeds rattle. Scraping the exterior of the gourd or using bleach and salt products can also expedite the drying process.
As an artist you may choose to decorate the exterior of the gourd without removing molds natural pattern. In this case you will want to protect the surface with shellac or varnish to prevent the mold from flaking. If you choose to remove the mold carefully wash the dried gourd with detergent or bleach. Scrape off mold spots or discolored areas with a wire brush or fine sandpaper to avoid scratching the surface to deeply.
If you are making a vase, or bowl you may choose to use a Dremel or other mechanical cutting blade to get access to the interior of the gourd. Carefully scoop out the inside seeds and membranes and cut off the inside part of the stem to make a flush, even surface.
You can use oils; acrylics or even watercolor paints to create artistic designs or scenes on your gourd. You can paint directly on the surface any medium should adhere well to the surface of the gourd and will be protected as long as you use a varnish to seal your work. Varnish is available as an oil or water based gloss, matt or semi gloss.
Waxes and polishes can also enhance the gourds sheen. You can use melted paraffin to brush on the inside and outside of the gourd to make it watertight if necessary. In addition, most products designed for use on wood, leather shoes and furniture or even floors can help protect the porous exterior of a gourd. Light buffing can also bring optimum life to the gourd. Linseed oil, mineral oil and tung oil can also protect the gourd but will not buff up to the shine that can be achieved with the use of the waxes and polishes we discussed.
In Africa as well as in Hawaii beads and shells were added to netting as a way to make a sling to carry the gourd. The necessity of the sling is now obsolete but crafters now reproduce the beauty of the beading artistry.
Pine needles and raffia were also a popular addition to basket gourds being woven into elaborate designs along with yarns and other textiles.
The decorating options for gourds are really quite endless. You can saw the gourd in two and use metal hinges to create a lid, fabric can be draped inside to hold rings and jewelry or fabric scraps can be applied with paper machie techniques. Holes can be drilled around the outside edge to allow for leather lashings. This method was anciently used to repair broken gourds but now it creates a decorative stitched pattern. Satin ribbons, gemstones, feathers or beadwork or seed beads is often also added.
Mosaics are also fun to create using a gourd as your base. If you pre-roughen the shell of the gourd water based clay can help adhere pieces of shell or shipped pottery or tile to your design. Clay figures can also be a whimsical way to add dimension to a gourd.
Clockworks can be hidden inside the gourd and paint a clock face on the exterior. You can use a wood-burning kit to decorate or designs can be added quickly with stencils. Not only can gourds create beautiful artwork but gourds can be turned into useful household appliances like piggy banks, vases, bowls, drums, masks, candle holders, centerpieces, lamp bases, stools, jewelry, bookends, toys, and dolls.