Fall under the spell of gourds at MD Gourd Festival April 26-28 at HCC

Drop by the Maryland Gourd Festival April 26 to 28, if you dare.

Members of the Harford Community College Gourd Club who are sponsoring the event have all fallen under the spell of the versatile vegetable and what can be done to transform it into a birdhouse, a bowl, a vase, a rainstick, a thunder drum or a Santa. The finished products are so appealing you, too, may fall under their spell.

The festival takes place in the dining room of the Chesapeake Center at Harford Community College Friday (April 26), 1 to 5 p.m., Saturday (April 27), 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. and Sunday (April 28), 9 a.m. to noon. Admission is free. Vendors will sell craft supplies and finished gourds, and members have donated finished gourds for a silent auction. To check out these items and information about the workshops that will be offered as well as silent auction items, visit http://www.gourdday.org and click on fund-raiser. Information can also be found at http://www.harford.edu.

The Gourd Club meets from 6 to 9 p.m. the last Wednesday of the month in Joppa Hall. Members, who must have taken a gourd class, pay $10 per semester.

Members talked about the annual festival, their third.

"We welcome the public to come to the festival and see what it is all about," Kyle Rowlands of Havre de Grace said. "People enjoy just walking by classes and watching, and people will be selling gourds already completed. It's never too early to start shopping for Christmas!"

Workshops are taught by well-qualified teachers from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Jenn Avery from Pennsylvania, for example, is extremely well known in gourd circles for her pyrography, or wood burning. This year's guest instructor, Reggie Eakin from Georgia, is noted for his carving.

"It's an opportunity for the rest of us novices to learn from the best," Rowlands, who took a class from Eakin at a gourd festival in Cherokee, N.C., said.

Most members give credit to Susan Nonn for getting them involved with gourds through a non-credit course she taught at HCC. Besides continuing to give gourd classes at the college, she teaches at the festival. She will bring copies of her new book, "Cut-Out Gourd Techniques," which she will sign.

"Our goal is education, to promote the gourds themselves. Our big thing is promoting the 'gourd glow,'" Susan Zanella of Baldwin said.

Indeed, there are more varieties of gourds than you can shake a stick at – penguin, bottle, martin (birdhouse), strawberry, banana, pear, apple, canteen, cannonball and crown of thorns. And the list goes on. Since dried gourds are considered soft wood, woodworking tools like gouges and drills are used to transform them.

Money from the silent auction goes to a scholarship fund for summer youth arts camps at HCC. Last year they raised more than $1,000. If you don't want to wait until all bids are in, you can take advantage of Buy It Now. For 150 percent of the value the artist has set on the piece, you can take it home with you on the spot.

There continues to be disagreement about whether finished gourds fall into the category of arts or crafts.

"Some of us sell at craft fairs," said Zanella. "The arts community sees it as a craft. At craft shows, they say it is art."

Lee Swift, who raises gourds on her farm near Jarrettsville, knows gourds from seedling to maturity. She says that hot, wet summers are best for gourd cultivation.

"Hard shell gourds have white blossoms," she said. "Every night the moths come out to pollinate all these blooms. They dry on the vine, and you pick them after the vine dies. I put them in the barn over the winter, and they dry hard."

According to Susan Zanella, gourding is very social.

"We're willing to share our knowledge," Georgie S. Ellwood of Jarrettsville said.

"What a great group it is," Rowlands added. "What great friends we have made."

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