The Dangerous Art of Gourd Crafting

When my friend Cora invited us to Art's Nursery's gourd festival to watch her workshop, I was blown away by the variety of quality art that could be made using the humble gourd! From dolls and and broaches to garden art and bowls, it turns out that gourd birdhouses are the just the tip of the iceberg. I also learned that gourd crafters lead a surprisingly daring and dangerous life.

This incredibly useful and alluring fruit looks innocent enough...

Before I tell you all about the dark side of gourds, allow me to redeem them with a demonstration of their full potential. This wind harp is a perfect example of just what can be accomplished with the humble gourd, and it highlights both their usefulness and beauty. I posted about Cora's creative endeavors last year, but even considering her chandelier plant hanger, I still consider this to be her greatest work. Interested in buying it for yourself? It's still on sale, so leave a comment for more info.

As part of Cora's demonstration and display, she even featured a Balinese doll crafted out of... you guessed it. Gourds! As much as I love Cora's work, it was especially fun to visit the other artisans to see their take on the craft. Here are some of my favorites:

Garden ornaments painted by kids
A gourd bird house with an incredibly intricate Celtic motif, engraved with a woodburner
This would make a beautiful container for one of my houseplant displays!
Would you have guessed that even these broaches were crafted from a gourd shell?
A detail of one incredibly detailed woodburning
The bottom of the same bowl followed the mermaid motif with starfish and sand dollars

After seeing all of the creative possibilities that these hard shelled fruits had to offer, I was just itching to attend Cora's workshop on making gourd clay. A small group gathered with us and watched as she blended the cooked gourd 'guts' with paper pulp and mixed in copious amounts of Elmer's glue to get the right consistency. She was a joy to watch, the audience cracking up at her jokes while she added more and more glue.

I was daydreaming about making my own gourd pottery when Cora cautioned. "Now you need to make sure you wear a dust mask or respirator when working with gourds or you might end up with what they call the gourd flu"

She had my full attention. Apparently when gourds are drying out they create a festering colony of mold, in such great concentrations that inhaling the spores can make you very sick. We were even advised to take showers after working with gourds and to use safety goggles at all times! Describing her own experience with mold spores, she recalled "My eyes were on fire"

The moldy interior of a gourd
The moldy exterior of an uncured gourd

When I got to thinking about my severe mold allergies, suddenly gourd crafting didn't seem like such a good idea, and after learning about 'gourd flu' and the less glamourous parts of gourd crafting, I've decided that it would be best to leave it to the professionals. After a gourd has been properly cleaned and cured, it really is safe to use... I'll just let the daring gourd artists to the dirty work.

Illustration by Steve Asbell
Rather than use gourds to create art, I'll stick to including gourds in my art, such as my latest illustration: Lady with a Tromboncino Squash. Yes, I know it's not a hardshell gourd, but it is still technically a gourd!

Art history students may notice the composition's resemblance to Leonardo da Vinci's 'Lady with an Ermine', which is exactly what Carolyn Binder was going for when she told me how she wanted her portrait. Oh, did I mention that I do blogger portraits now? Yeah, I do blogger portraits. Just so you know.

In this colored pencil ode to the ultimate Renaissance man, my good friend Carolyn is holding her Italian tromboncino squash, which she treasures for its ability to keep for long periods and grow to incredible lengths. How long do they get? Lets just say that if she was caressing a full grown 3-4 foot long tromboncino you might do a double take, just as I did a double take when I learned about the unexpectedly dangerous life of a gourd artist.


  1. Wow! And I love the portrait you did...stunning. You are so very talented.

    1. Thank you! I see lots of faults, but each drawing is another lesson.

  2. Beautiful work on your portrait! I used to do woodburning long ago and this has brought back some fond memories. wonderful post, Steve! :0)

    1. I had no idea that you could do intricate designs like that! I usually see the really course lettering.

  3. GOOD GRIEF! When did I get OLD?? Looks like I was having a bad hair day as well as the problem with the gourd clay. Great coverage Steve and of course, the portrait is beautiful as is all of your work. Perhaps at next years show, you will be autographing copies of your book! By the way, I was delighted to meet your lovely bride. I sensed she has helped you to overcome some of your shyness?

    1. You look great, Cora! And yes, my wife has helped with my shyness, though she herself is pretty shy. We're best friends! Thanks for treating us to a fun filled afternoon!

  4. So are you going to tell us what a blog portrait is? I found you because of the Gourd wind harp. That is just stunning. Did you actually hear it? I pinned it! -

  5. Hi, Can you tell me please, how much you selling the Wind harp made from a gourd? email;
    Thank you!


Please feel free to share your questions, ideas and suggestions!