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                      Hawaiian Fruit by Michael Harburg
 These gorgeous colours were achieved by using an ancient  Hawaiian method of gourd decorating - the Ni'ihau method.

In This Issue: We are honoured to have with us Michael Harburg, a pioneer in rekindling the old Hawaiian Ni'ihau method of gourd decoration. The demise of this unique art form occurred in the late 1800's and thanks to the persistence and hard work of Michael, the Ni'ihau method is now used by many gourd artists throughout Hawaii.

     This gourd plant grew from an old cracked gourd from last years crop.

August is a easy month out in the gourd field. Apart from couple of walk-throughs and the occasional watering, gourd growers can take it easy and just enjoy the rewards of their hard work from the previous months. No more nightly pollination, this month is one for summer fun and relaxation.
Our mailbag was overflowing including a letter from Gareth Pearson who is growing gourds in the cool temperatures of Vancouver Island. It is a struggle this year; even the tomato plants are at a stand still with lots of flowers but no fruit!
Also some trivia and an excellent gourd sighting but now, please welcome Michael Harburg, an artist with a vision.

 Michael Harburg
The Ni'ihai Method: The Art of Dying Polynesian Gourds
Michael considers the Ni'ihau technique a rediscovered medium of art, not just a variation of an
existing medium. 

One morning Michael Harburg's eye was drawn to a small article in the local paper. It was about a man named Dr Bruise Kaimiloa Chrisman who had been doing research on the old Hawaiian method of decorating ipu, the Hawaiian word for gourds.

The article described how Dr Chrisman had followed the clues provided by Ernest Dodge, a historian from the Peabody Museum. He also studied museum specimens trying to figure out this old method of gourd decoration. Some experimentation was conducted but the long lost art of the Ni'ihau method was still somewhat a mystery.

After a visit with Dr Chrisman Michael decided to start experimenting himself. He harvested a few green gourds from the garden beside his business and dove right in. Through the oldest teacher of all, trial and error, Michael slowly learned the intricacies of the Ni'ihau techniques. 

The Ni'ihau method is a form of decoration that was used in old Hawaii on the island of Ni'ihau. Dr Chrisman described it this way "A green gourd is harvested at maturity and some of the epidermis is removed leaving a desired pattern. Dye, usually tannin based, is introduced to the interior of the gourd. After a while the dye is emptied out of the interior and the skin remaining on the exterior is removed by scraping and scrubbing. The desired pattern is revealed where the skin was left on. Where the skin was removed, the gourd retains its natural colour." 

Now, thanks to the further work of Michael Harburg, this ancient art is once again back in the limelight. Michael states that in the beginning he was fascinated by the process but not in the art of design. "I started out on this path by just trying to figure out how the process worked. I got into the creative process because, well, I had to put something on them."

Michael's designs fall into three categories. The first is what he euphemistically describe as "reminiscent of a museum specimen." As a cultural demonstrator at the three national parks in Hawaii, Michael copies design motifs from the old Ni'ihau gourds and creates contempory gourds that are similar. He uses the tannin dyes that were historically available such as sandalwood bark (lli ahi) to simulate the colour and patterns of the traditional Hawaiian tattooed gourd.

He also creates what he calls the Hawaiiana motifs. These are turtles, canoe paddlers and other popularized Hawaiian themed art. These designs invariably sell well.

Thirdly Michael does flora designs such as hibiscus and bamboo, sometimes with a dragonfly, sometimes not. These designs are multicoloured and allow him to experiment and learn the possibilities and limitations of using three and four different colours in a creation.

Traditional designs used tree bark tannin dyes that were always brown. Michael now uses up to 3 - 4 colours to achieve beautiful results.

In 2003 Michael and an artist friend opened up a small gallery, the Ipu Hale Gallery in the town of Holualoa. The gallery is dedicated to the perpetuation and the production of this "lost" Hawaiian decoration technique. It was at this point that Michael began a slow learning curve, creating more sophisticated designs, and always trying to push the parameters of this relatively unexplored technique. 

For example, no one in history had ever used any other colour than brown. Old Hawaiians used tree bark tannins for their dyes. Dr Chrisman was a stickler for historical accuracy and used the same. Michael started by using Tasters Choice coffee, arguably a 'natural plant dye.' It worked quite well. 

Before long Michael began using synthetic fibre dyes. He pioneered a method to create multi-coloured gourds using the Ni'ihau technique, the details of which he keeps to himself.

Here is a work in progress. See how the dye is soaking through from the inside of the gourd to create wonderful shades on the outside shell.

When Michael first opened his gallery very few people were aware of this art and even fewer were doing it. Through the classes and workshops that Michael does that is no longer the case.

To summarize Michael states, "Because of my efforts, the art of the tattooed gourds of Ni'ihau is perpetuated. I would guess that there are hundreds of people doing this art now in west Hawaii alone. I know of a dozen artists who now do this art as a focus of their careers."

Michael's art is ever expanding and currently he is working on gourd molding. He has made a casting of his friend Kimo's face and is now growing a gourd into the mold that will accurately reproduce Kimo's features. He will then decorate it Ni'ihau style with Maori tattoos.

Michael lives on a small coffee farm above the town of Holualoa with his wife Anita and young daughter Alana. His gallery, Ipu Hale Gallery, is located at
76 - 5894 Mamalahoa Hwy, Holualoa. If you are visiting Hawaii a gourd class on the Ni'ihau method is just the ticket. Call at 808/322-9069 for details.

If you can't make it for a class Michael does have an excellent, easy to understand outline on how to do the Ni'ihau method. It discusses the finer points of this medium and is available for $10.00.

To learn more about Michael Harburg and his art click here:

To learn more about the Ni'ihau method here is Michael himself:
Thank you Michael, we were very excited to learn about this technique and cannot wait to try it out in the fall on some green gourds. The results are beautiful and if we ever get to Hawaii, you will be at the top of our list of things we want to do.      Carolyn and Linda
The Art of Growing Gourds

In August gourd growers will begin to play the waiting game. During this month the gourds will  mature and you can consider yourself on vacation apart from a couple of small jobs.

1.) Trellissed Gourds - The vines and tendrils of a gourd plant are very strong but if it looks as though the gourds are too heavy and pulling at the vines, support them with pantihose. Place the gourd in the seat of the pantihose and using the legs, securely tie to your trellis.

2.) Ground - Grown Gourds - Go through your gourd patch and if there are any gourds lying on their sides turn them so they are sitting on their bottoms. Pick up the leaves as there will always be some hiding underneath.
3.) Pollination - It's over for another year! There will still be flowers but there will not be enough time for maturity so don't waste your time.

4.) Anthracnose - This is a fungus that lives in the soil. It can also be carried by the wind. If it hits your gourds it will appear as large brown irregular spots on the leaves. Eventually the centers will fall out leaving a hole. Visit your local garden center for a remedy.

Out of the Mailbag   

             Saanich Greenhouse Gourd - July
Hi there once again,
Oh whoa is me and my small gourd seedlings out here on Vancouver Island. Every day I watch the skies for a glimmer of sun and heat and every day the skies are cloudy with a cool breeze. Throughout the US and Canada there is extreme heat and I can just imagine the fast growing gourd vines; abundant with flowers and with gourds.
Here my plants are growing but not much. But I am stubborn and will not give up. I am determined to get at least one gourd this year! (I can already hear the laughter.)
On another note I went to the Royal BC Museum in Victoria last week. Upon entering the first thing I saw was John Lennon's psychedelic Rolls-Royce Phantom V. Have to admit it was a bit of a thrill.
This car had a phone, double bed, custom interior/exterior sound system with a loud hailer, a Sony television and a portable fridge. The Beatles used the Rolls from 1966-1969.
Wait, there is a slit in the clouds and behind it blue sky and sunshine. Maybe August will be better and my seedlings will take off. On goes the fight!
           Gareth Pearson - Saanich, Vancouver Island
Thanks Gareth,
We admire your determination. It will be interesting to see how large your vines get - we do wish you luck.
Thanks for the photos of John Lennon's car. I spent my youth listening to his music and still love it to this very day. Now if only this car could talk. 
Stay in touch Gareth.
Hi Carolyn,
I've noticed that gourds float. Are gourds ever used in water rescue?             Sherry Dizney, Seattle, WA 
Hi Sherry,
What a good question. In North America I don't believe that gourds are used in water rescue but in some parts of the world swimmers use gourds on a regular basis. Two gourds are tied together with rope or string and placed under the arms. They will support a person in the water.
Gourds were used for rafts in India, Mexico and South America and as floating buoys. An anchor is attached to the gourds by ropes to hold them stationary. 

               In Texas they know how to stay cool.
Looking Ahead: September 2011
Next month we are heading to Blenheim, Ontario to visit with gourd artist Grant Feldman. Grant is now retired but spent most of his career in the forest products industry in Canada and the seafood industry in Alaska.

Grant does not consider himself an artist but rather  a person who likes to 'fiddle around'. His interests are many ranging from boat building through to gourds.

If he were ever classified as an artist he claims the classification should be an 'accidental artist.' Accidental or not we love his work and are pleased to feature Grant in the upcoming September issue of Gourd Fever.

       Do not harvest until the vines are dead.

It is the beginning of August and we are almost finished with another year of gourd growing. As we say every year at this time harvest will not take place until the end of October so no matter how big and mature your gourds look, do not be tempted to cut them from their vines. Do not drill holes in them to make them dry faster, just relax and let them do their thing.
We are off to Kemperfest in Barrie in the next day or two,  It is the first of a few shows we have booked. Kemperfest is an outdoor show, set up on the water and there is always a lot to see and do. If you have plans to attend make sure you stop by and say hello.
                                          A joyous August to you all...
                                          Carolyn Cooper and Linda Bond
Comments, photos, ideas and stories can be sent to


Volume 7, Number 77 


In this issue:
Michael Harburg - The Tattooed Gourds of Ni'ihau

The Bulletin Board - Northern Dipper News

The Art of Growing Gourds
Out of the Mailbag, Gourd Sightings & Trivia

  The Bulletin Board 

  The Study of Robins
 Linda's niece Amanda came to Northern Dipper farm for a visit and she was delighted when she found a nest of robins in the barn.

Every day she went down and photographed them. We were  amazed at how quickly the wee ones grew!

We're hungry Ma!

Did you know...
The eggs hatch in 14 days and the chicks leave the nest 2 weeks later. The adults will still be active in protecting and feeding the fledged chicks until they can forage on their own.

Here they have their feathers

Parenting is a full time job when you are a robin.

Michael Harburg
"I have no formal art back ground, I am self-taught. I call myself a medium in search of an artist."

"For inspiration I have but to look at the natural beauty of these islands. The myriad of plants, the creatures of the sea, and the Hawaiian cultural past and present provide all the inspiration one could want."


"I approached the art of decoration by labeling myself  a hobbyist at first. I became a craftsman simply because of the large number of gourds I created. I have produced about a hundred decorated gourds a year for the last eight years."

"One must form a relationship with the living gourd in all the phases of its life.Care must be taken in the cultivation and harvesting of the gourd. If one is careless, this process will not work."

"There are many factors and variables that affect the outcome of the art. Time of harvest, type of gourd, age of gourd after harvest, and relative humidity all play a major role. I am always trying to figure out how to refine and control the variables that affect the outcome of my art."

 Advice To New Artists
 Grow gourds if your climate allows it. No gourds, no art.
(The Ni'ihau method of decorating requires green gourds.)

Be persistent. In the back of my gallery I have a pile of failed gourds called the trail of tears. If a gourd fails in some stage of its creation throw it out the back door and grab another, start anew.

Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first. If you want perfection right from the start, this art is not for you.


"I grow many of my own gourds and also enlist my neighbours, farmers and anyone who comes into my gallery into cultivating them. The goal is to never run out of green gourds."

Ipu Heke

"I have developed a gourd type that is a large tall cylinder, rather thin shelled, but hard with a narrow neck. I am currently using this gourd as the base of the ipu heke.(hula drum) It possesses superior acoustic qualities and rings like a bell when struck. My goal is to become the Les Paul of the Hawaiian drum makers."

"Five years after meeting Dr Chrisman I went back to show him what I had learned. He was impressed by my progress and explained that he had taught me in the old Hawaiian way."

"A kumu (teacher) does not reveal all that he knows at first."

"Let's say you want to be a fisherman. Here is a hook, a line, and there is the ocean. Come back in five years and tell me what you have learned."

"I consider myself to be the foremost artist in this medium simply by default."

"No one had been doing this as serious commercial art when I started down this path. I used to say that I have taught ninety-nine percent of the people that are actively doing this art, but that is no longer true."

"My students have taught others who have taught others. The spread of this technique is now geometric, successfully perpetuating this unique art  

A Historical Note:
On the small island of Ni'ihau someone discovered a method of decorating gourds that was unique in the world. This knowledge was lost due to the demise of the practitioners and the decline of Hawaiian culture around 1880. Western crockery, including metal pots, quickly replaced the gourd.

The Art of Growing Gourds

The brown scarring at the bottom of this gourd is caused by the cucumber beetle.
 Late season blossom

 Out of the Mailbag
Greenhouse Gourd - June
Outside in a pot - June
Outside in a pot - July
 In hot temperatures gourd vines are this large in June. Gourds are a hot-weather crop.

Gourd Sighting 

Last Sunday I happen to catch Vitality Gardening, a seed to table guide for gardeners in the northern growing zones. They were in Winnipeg with a woman (the host) who was prepping and planting her own garden using the mound method.

Historically this method of planting was used by Aboriginal people when planting the three sisters; corn, beans and squash. It is a perfect combination as the corn drains the soil of nitrogen and the beans replaces it. The squash is planted underneath.

The gourd sighting was when an Elder was blessing the garden using a gourd rattle.

To see a Vitality Gardening video on mound planting click here:

For more information on mound planting click her

Mickey at the beach.
            Published by
             Pam Grossi
    Victoria, BC, V8R 2Z7

       Northern Dipper
           PO Box 1145
      5376 County Road 56
Cookstown, Ontario
L0L 1L0, Canada
(705) 435-3307
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