By DIANNA TROYER
With seemingly infinite patience, Carol Joyce coiled pine needles in plaits and secured them around the rim of a gourd she had grown and dried. When finished, the gourd was transformed into a sturdy, decorative basket.
“I’ve always been drawn to the natural beauty of gourds and pine needles,” said Joyce, treasurer of the Idaho Gourd Society.
A resident of Meridian, she is not alone in transforming gourds into works of art or objects with a practical purpose, like bowls or vases. The society, founded in 1998, has about 100 members throughout the Treasure Valley. They meet monthly, while local chapters of the society, called “patches,” get together more frequently in Boise, Caldwell, Nampa, Meridian, and Kuna.
The society offers classes and competitions for gourd artists of all abilities and interests, from beginners to experts, and is dedicated to the education and instruction of those interested in gourd history, cultivation, painting, crafts, and fine gourd art.
“Gourd artistry is growing in popularity because you can do so much with them, from craft to fine art,” said Joyce. “Gourds can be a canvas to paint on or a medium for sculpture. You can decorate them with anything from beads or gems to feathers. Plus, they grow in so many different sizes and shapes.”
For centuries, gourds have been decorated worldwide and used for utilitarian purposes or cherished as art. They can be carved, painted, sanded, burned, dyed, and polished.
Modern gourd artists have made them into vases, lamps, baskets, birdhouses, bowls, and masks.
“When I was working, I promised myself I’d learn to carve and decorate gourds when I retired and had more time,” said Joyce, who worked in financial administrative positions at Boise State University for 26 years. When she retired in 2012, she kept her promise to herself.
“I joined the society and have learned so much and made wonderful friendships,” she said.
Since she began decorating gourds, Joyce has refined her techniques and won an award for her morel mushroom sculpture at a show during the recent Idaho Gourd Society Festival.
“I used small bottle gourds for the caps and other pieces for the stems, then used a Dremel tool to carve indentations in the caps.”
She recently returned from a festival where she learned how to do fancy filigree.
“There were also classes about mixing different compounds to add texture to the gourd. Or you can spray a gourd with metal paint to give the piece an aged patina appearance,” she said.
Joyce began growing gourds in her garden several years ago.
“If you don’t want to grow your own gourds, our members usually have a few for sale, or you can order them on the Internet,” she added.
She encourages people with an interest in gourd art to come to a meeting.
“We have something for everyone,” she said. “There’s always some new technique to learn. I’m working on improving my carving, especially the chip carving. I’ll see where that leads me.”