What versatile fruit can be a canvas for painting, the medium for a sculpture, or even the beads of a necklace?
The answer is a gourd, and for JoAnne Smith and Doris Feathers, the versatility of gourds has been the catalyst for a productive hobby and longtime friendship.
Smith, a family doctor, and Feathers, who works as a banker, meet every week to hone their gourd artistry.
“We’ve been friends forever and have been working with gourds for years,” Smith said.
Smith owns a house near downtown Andalusia, where she lives when she is “on call” as a doctor. That house also serves as a useful “studio” to house art equipment and gourds, and provide a place for the two to work on their art projects.
Every Tuesday night, about six of their friends meet at the house to enjoy a meal and work on art projects, with Linda Rawls of Opp leading the art portion of the night. Smith said the group has no official name, but has been meeting at the house for the last two years.
“We’d like to open up the group to more people, but we need a bigger place,” she said.
“Right now it’s just this fun thing we can do every Tuesday night,” Feathers said. “It’s kind of become a time for therapy, and a creative outlet and way to relieve stress. We’re all good friends and we teach each other.”
While Smith and Feathers are members of the Tuesday night group, they also work on their gourd projects at the house whenever they can. Because they enjoy working together to make gourd-related artwork, they call themselves “Just-Us Gourds.”
“It’s just us, so that’s what we named ourselves,” Smith said. “We’ve been doing work for the last six years for the (St. Mary’s Episcopal Church) Pumpkin Patch, and those items are always very popular. Gourds are a wonderful canvas; you can paint, you can sculpt, you can add decorations to them. It’s really a wonderful art form.”
Feathers said gourds were one of the first plants she tried to grow as a child, and she continues to grow many of the gourds the pair uses in their artwork. Other gourds are purchased, or donated. Feathers explained that it takes roughly a year of “seasoning” before a gourd is ready to be used in art.
“This season’s gourds will be next year’s art,” she said.
The gourds are then opened up and cleaned out with a special tool. The “gourd goop” that is removed can even be made into paper.
“We never throw anything away or waste anything,” Smith said.
Smith said that over the years, she and Feathers have used a variety of art styles with their gourds — including watercolor painting, basketry, dyes (both alcohol and leather), jewelry and “natural elements.”
This year, Smith and Feathers entered several items into the Alabama Gourd Festival in Cullman, and they were surprised to win ribbons for some of their work.
“We didn’t even know there was an Alabama Gourd Society and Festival at first,” Smith said. “We started getting into it and decided to enter a few things. We didn’t think they were good enough to get ribbons, so we were surprised to win.”
Smith and Flowers are also involved with the “Heart of Dixie Gourd Patch” group, which meets every third Saturday at 4 p.m. at Anita Ellis’ studio in Opp.
“Anybody can be come to the meetings and see some of the talented gourd artists we have in the county,” Smith said.
For more information about the Heart of Dixie Gourd Patch, call Anita Ellis at 493-7166.