The American Gourd Society held its 53rd Annual Ohio Gourd Show over the weekend at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, drawing about 2,000 gourd growers, artists and collectors from across the U.S. to the three-day event.
“We were here last year and the quality and variety, in addition to the talent, is unbelievable,” Rootstown, Ohio, resident Ann Maskarinec said.
Gourd enthusiasts signed up for workshops to learn various techniques, including cross-stitching, carving, beading, painting, wood-burning and netting.
The show also featured gourd arts and crafts, judging competitions, workshops, an auction, several out-of-state exhibitors, and music performances by Rum River Blend.
The Ohio Gourd Show has been held over the years in Mount Gilead and Greenville before coming to Delaware. Show chairman Bruce Barber said the Ohio Gourd Society plans to stay in Delaware.
“Visitors are glad we moved it back to central Ohio,” Barber said. “It’s more centrally located now, which makes it easier for people to access.”
Dozens of gourd varieties exist, from the 6-inch warted hardshell gourd to the slim 4-foot-long handle dipper. Barber estimated this year’s show represented about 70 different kinds.
Used to make musical instruments, birdhouses, Christmas ornaments and jewelry, gourds are grouped into three main types. Ornamental gourds, often seen in autumn decorations, grow easily and develop rich colors.
The lagenaria, or hardshells, are typically larger gourds that grow green and fade into shades of brown. The hardshell bottle gourd, which researchers say likely floated on ocean currents from Africa to North America, is the most popular choice for craft work.
Lisa Cotner, of Circleville, who has raised gourds for nearly 15 years, says it takes time.
“What’s growing right now will sit in my barn and dry for the whole winter and then next year it might be ready for cleaning and painting,” Cotner said. “It takes at least a year to go from seed to craft.”
Cotner said a gourd’s versatility is what makes the hobby so enjoyable. “They’re cheap, they’re fun, they can do so many things. Once they go bad, you throw them away and grow a new one.”
The third type, luffas, grows longer than most gourds and are known for their tough, fibrous interior. Once dried, they’re often used as sponges.
Workshop leader Jane Weller, 62, says that during the drying process, the moisture from the inside evaporates and the gourds become moldy. The mold doesn’t indicate the gourd is rotting — rather, it needs to be cleaned.
“We wear respirators when we cut gourds,” Weller said. “After they are cured out and finished, they become hard like wood.”
Gourds have been cultivated for thousands of years and used in many cultures worldwide as containers, utensils and dishes. Today, Weller said that gourd fine art can sell into the thousands of dollars.
Still, celebrating the gourd show wouldn’t be complete without a glimpse of the Gourd Man, a head-to-toe gourd suit designed by Delaware resident Deborah Parsley, who crafted the creation after her kids needed a Halloween costume.
Though it was the first year the Ohio Gourd Society started charging an entry fee, the $5 one-day ticket price didn’t hold gourd lovers from attending.
“It’s a dying art,” Maskarinec said, “but we plan to keep on coming back.”
Shyla Nott is a freelance writer.