Georgia Society Celebrates Gourds
By Dennis McDonald
You can't drive down a southern highway without noticing the teardrop shaped bird houses made from gourds hanging in the yards of homes and homesteads.
Most people identify with this singular use of gourds but are unaware of the rich history and the role gourds have played in cultures going back thousands of years.
The Georgia Gourd Society is a non-profit organization formed with a commitment to promoting the horticulture, crafting and appreciation of this useful and historic plant. They do this by providing educational opportunities, activities and public exhibitions, such as the 2016 Gourdfest to be held in Griffin, Ga. this September.
The utility of this hard shelled fruit is documented in many of the earliest cultures world wide, thousands of years before the development of pottery. In China they were used to carry medicine, herbs, wine and elixers. The bottle gourd shape became a charm symbol to ward off evil spirits and disease and to bring prosperity. It can still be found represented in Chinese art. Evidence of their use has even been found in historical records of desert cultures in the middle east.
Research suggests the gourd came to the Americas from Asia with the first humans, between 10,000 to 13,000 years ago. They are thought to be one of the earliest known domesticated crops grown here. When Europeans first made contact with Native Americans they found extensive use of gourds as containers and utensils - including their use as bird houses to attract purple martins as a means of insect control.
But the ways our ancestors around the world used the gourd didn't end there. Cultures have used them for everything from musical instruments and ceremonial masks to fishing floats, jewelry, helmets and baby toys. Today, much of our modern dishware, containers and utensils still reflect the shapes of these ancient tools.
Because they were valued, gourds were often decorated and embellished by early artisans. In many cases they became the art of a culture. Gourds still serve as a canvas for artistic expression in countries like Africa, China and Peru where the intricate skills of etching and pyrography(drawing with fire) on gourds continue to be passed down from generation to generation.
Organizations like the Georgia Gourd Society, and the other 25 state chapters that make up the American Gourd Society, are keeping this heritage alive and demonstrating how this tradition has morphed in modern culture. The 2016 Gourdfest on September 24th and 25th will feature the amazing work of gourd artists from all around the southeast United States. There will be classes, demonstrations, historical displays, plus vendors with art and craft supplies, tools and piles of raw gourds ready for crafting.
It will be a great way to spend the day with family or friends. The venue at the Kiwanis fairgrounds in Griffin is air conditioned, handicap accessible, and parking and admission are free. It is not the usual "fall festival" and you might just discover a fascinating new hobby! Directions, hours and class information can be found on the society's website - georgiagourdsociety.com.