In this issue:
We are so pleased to have with us Grace Swanson, a woman whose roots began in Nigeria and who ended up in California. As a child gourds were part of every day life but once moving to America they were forgotten.
That is until a few years ago when she came across a workshop on gourds and pyrography. The scent of burning gourd shell brought many childhood memories. More workshops followed and now Grace's name is well-known in the craft show circuit in California.
It is almost spring and people's mailboxes are filling up with seed catalogues. Currently there are thousands of gardeners out there beginning to plan and visualize the upcoming season. For those of you planting gourds we will be offering growing tips on everything from seed germination to planting, pollinating through to the harvest. This will be very helpful in particular, for the first time grower.
We have our trivia and some interesting letters from you so pull up a chair and enjoy this March issue of Gourd Fever.
(The above photos is art by Grace Swanson.)
Grace Swanson: Nigerian Roots Emerge Through Gourd Art
Grace was born and raised in north east Nigeria. Her parents were missionaries who went to Nigeria separately during WW II, married and had 3 kids. Grace lived in Nigeria until she was 16 years old and a junior in high school. For a great many years she considered Nigeria to be her real home and was home sick for a long time after she left.
As a child she lived way out in the "bush" and her playmates (when she was not away at boarding school) were the neighborhood kids. Grace and her siblings learned and followed everything their friends and their parents did. It was a lovely childhood full of adventure and wonderment.
Gourds are very much a part of Nigerian culture. It was commonplace to see people burning designs into gourds. (In Nigeria they are called calabash.) For example every new bride gets a large collection of newly burned gourds. People use gourds for everything from spoons to bowls and water containers. They even grew huge ones to be used as personal flotation devices to cross streams.
Grace has been a docent (instructor) at the San Diego Botanica Gardens for many years and it was here that she saw a class on gourd pyrography. She thought to herself, "Well I most certainly know what a gourd is. I think I'll check this out."
There were only 2 people in the class and the instructors attitude was "Lets have some fun." Armed with a cheap wood burner and a gourd, Grace burned in her first design. The scent flooded her mind with memories of Nigeria and after that experience there was no looking back.
As a woman with great imagination and energy, Grace finds that life as a whole inspires her. She likes to get lost in her huge collection of art books. She also has a couple of large binders full of stuff cut from magazines or taken off the Internet. Patterns are seen in everything and Grace is always seeking out paintings, pottery...anything interesting that she can modify for her gourd art.
For many years Grace was a watercolor artist. In the beginning she told herself that her art would not be commercial. She thought she should paint whatever she wanted and then hope it would sell. That philosophy however changed over the years.
Grace has found that selling her artwork is delightful! When doing a show she will create a certain percentage of work that she knows will sell. As she lives on the coast she finds that ocean themes always do well. Grace is quick to add though that it is the death of an artist to only produce what you know sells.
One - quarter of Grace's time is spent on experimenting with new designs or techniques. If it sells fine, if it doesn't she gives it away, donates it or stashes it in the back of her studio. She reviews any mistakes she may have made and learns from them.
A heavy schedule fills Grace's calender every year. There are between 16 - 20 shows to do and they are all in California. She also has a website but believes that to really appreciate gourd art, you have to pick it up and feel it. Her website is a place where potential customers can go to buy and appeciate art plus it gets her name out there.
Between her volunteer work, her full show calender and life in general Grace has now found the time to teach. She heeded the words of Maya Angelou..."If you get - give. If you learn - teach," and with her vast wealth of information and experience Grace's classes are quick to fill.
To date she has taught through the 3 groups she belongs to:
1.) the San Diego County Gourd Artists http://sandiegocountygourdpatch.com/
2.) the San Diego Art Guild http://sandieguitoartguild.com/
3.) the Misti Washington Gourd and Baskey Guild. http://baskets-gourds.com/
In closing, if by chance you get an opportunity to meet this energetic, dynamic woman do. She will make you feel welcome and right at home. In the meantime check out Grace's website...there is lots of art featured that is not in this article.
The Garden Arts: Gourd Growing In The Home Garden
For the gardener, growing gourds can be a very rewarding experience as the journey gourds take is fascinating. For the artist, their vision is the wonderful supply of gourd canvases that will be filling their workshops in a few months. For the gardener/artist, it is a marriage made in heaven.
In the upcoming months we will be providing information which will ensure that you will have successful yields. As an ex-commercial gourd farmer I have experienced it all and would love to share the highlights with you. To get started in this issue we will talk about seed germination and seedling care. We will also touch on planting out as the next newsletter will not be out until the beginning of June and by that time the seedlings should be thriving in your garden.
General Characteristics of a Hard-Shell Gourd
1.) Gourds are a vigorous vine which can grow up to 30 feet if it is left without pruning. It has beautiful large leaves and white night-blooming flowers.
2.) The vine has thick,strong tendrils which grow close to the fruit. They are natural climbers which makes them ideal for trellissing or along a chain link fence.
3.) Gourds can be grown on the ground - keep in mind they need room for this. Heat is a big requirement as is water. They require 120 days to mature and the drying occurs over winter.
4.) In addition to hard-shell gourds ornamental gourds, grown in pots, are a lovely addition to any garden or patio. The flowers are large and bright orange or yellow and like the hard-shell gourd, ornamentals grow quickly. Because they are so easy and magical they are ideal for children to take on. The small gourds are wonderful for children's art projects.
5.) Luffas are super cool and should be trellised. Luffas have a thick dark brown covering when mature and they contain lots of seeds. They are loads of fun and make great gifts anytime.
Planting Out In The Garden
1.) Location - Choose a hot, sunny spot with a southern exposure.
2.) Rich soil and heat - Enrich the area with compost before planting. Dig in well. To retain even more heat warm your planting area a week or two ahead of time by cutting open black garbage bags. Spread the plastic over the soil and secure the edges with either rocks or soil.
3.) Water - Gourds require a fair amount of water so plant close to a water source. If you are planting close to your house conserve water by using your used dish water and rain water.
To Trellis or Grow On The Ground?
- Trellissed gourds take up less room and are easier to prune. At harvest time they can be left on the vine to overwinter.
- The trellis must be strong as green gourds can be very heavy.
- Dipper gourds will have nice straight handles when trellissed.
- Ground grown gourds can be grown in hills or in straight rows.
- Plant with 3 - 4 feet between seedlings.
- For watering an irrigation system (drip hose) will make things really easy plus conserve water.
- Plant large varieties such as Bushels on the ground.
In June topics will cover pruning, pollination and insect and disease control. In the meantime if you have any questions about gourd growing send them in. We will be happy to answer them.
"Out Of The Mailbag"
Hello Northern Dipper,
I am thinking about selling my gourd art at some local craft shows but have never done anything even close to this. I am a little nervous and could use some advice. I know you have done many shows; can you help me?
Thank you, Jeanette Brown
Shows can be very rewarding providing that you chose the right venue for your work. Following are a few points that you should look at when starting out.
1.) Do Your Research - Investigate what shows you want to do and then walk them. Talk to the vendors to find out how profitable the show is, what kind of people attend. Ask what other shows they recommend. There is a circuit and believe me, the vendors know best. It is important to get into a venue where your art fits.
2.) Costs - It is an expensive proposition doing the trade/craft show circuit these days. There are booth fees, travel, shipping or gas if you are driving, the cost of tables and chairs (if you don't have your own), electricity for lighting, insurance, hotel and food. It can all add up at the end of the day.
3.) Start Small - When starting out rent a small booth. If it is set up properly it can have a big WOW factor. Make sure, when you apply, that you are not given a booth that is far from the main traffic. Remember that it is the job of show organizers to sell booth space but what they sell you may not necessarily be in your best interest.
4.) Inventory - You will have to judge how much inventory you will have to build. You don't want to run out nor do you want to be bringing a whole bunch of product home. Make sure that you have some lower priced items like ornaments for example. These are perfect for impulse buying and it is our experience that lower priced items always sell well. Spend time doing nice tags with the prices clearly marked.
5.) What Else - Tables, chairs, carry bags, business cards and other marketing material, calculator, debit machine/Visa machine, lighting. (Don't scrimp on lighting - you want to be able to show your art off.) Do a checklist and mark things off as they are packed. Don't forget water, snacks (protein bars/fruit), lunch. If you are busy you will not get away and not all shows have food at them.
Good luck Jeanette, let us know what you decide and how it is going. Shows can be very exciting and can be very profitable too!
Do you find that things happen in life and you are able to say "Just like in Seinfeld!" Well here is another one for the books. A mailman in Italy was discovered with a half-ton of mail stashed in his garage. He would have been an idol for Neuman in Seinfeld!
The Italian postal police said that 573 kilogram or 1260 pounds of mail was found in the Vicenza home of the 56 year old postman. He had been stashing it for 8 years and included utility bills, bank statements, old phone books and political propaganda mailings from the 2010 regional elections. Amazingly, he is not the only mail hoarder out there.
In 2014, in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn in New York City, a postal worker was charged with hiding more than 10 years worth of mail which resulted in about 40,000 pieces of mail. It was found in his work locker, his car and his home. All charges were later dismissed.
In North Carolina, 53 year old Gary Collins was arrested for holding back 1,800 letters and parcels and in 2015 a postal worker was charged with hoarding away 22,000 parcels.
So if you don't receive your bills this month call the company. It may be that they have been spirited away by some postal worker who would rather be at home having a postal nap rather than filling empty mailboxes.
Looking Ahead: June 2018
This month you are in for a special treat. We are honoured to have with us featured artist Don Weeke. Don has been making baskets and working with gourds for 35 years. His work contains many different elements and that, combined with imagination and vision, makes Don's art truly extraordinary. Please welcome Don; this is an artist you are not going to want to miss.
June will find us out in the garden tending our gourds. The plants are now well established and on their way and the next step is to make sure healthy pollination occurs. There will be a little pruning this month as well as an introduction into what pests may decide to enter your gourd world. In the meantime order those seeds and get them started soon.
Our usual trivia will provide some additional entertainment and of course there is the Music Pick. Send in your mail and photos as we do love to hear from you. So until we meet again, stay healthy and happy! See you soon...Lori Chalmers
PS If you have any stories, ideas or photos you would like to share send to firstname.lastname@example.org