The Transformation from Ordinary to Artistry at The Gourd Gathering in Cherokee, NC5.15.2017
(Artist, Suzi Nonn of Naturally Yours)
In 2002, beloved gourd artist Jerry Lewis of California founded the first Gourd Gathering in Cherokee, NC, as an opportunity for fellow craftspeople to meet and share their methods. Over the years, it became known as a “reunion” among guests. When Jerry passed away, new coordinators stepped up to ensure that the event carried on and was successful.
Today, the annual Gourd Gathering at Cherokee continues to bring people from all over the country together. The next event will take place Thursday through Sunday, June 1–4, 2017. Entry is free, while classes vary in costs.
Artists and enthusiasts alike may see gourds in a whole new light. Gourd artists meet for four days to exchange ideas and take classes from acclaimed teachers in various techniques, including wood burning, carving, painting, and sculpting. Classes, from beginner to advanced levels, take place from Thursday to Sunday morning.
Beautiful Art to Take Home
Gourd artist Suzi Nonn (who sells her work under the business name Naturally Yours) has attended all but one of the Gatherings—first as a student, and then as an instructor/vendor and class coordinator. Last year, she stepped up as coordinator of the event. “What I love about this event is all the people who pitch in to make it happen,” she says.
Participants and visitors may obtain finished gourds through the silent auction, raffles, and Bingo. These activities are designated as fundraisers to benefit the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and to offset costs of the Gathering. Read about the damage to several Arrowmont buildings from the winter wildfires and how this special fundraiser can help the School. The piece on the left above is the raffle gourd. The one of the right is one of the five projects in Saturday mornings Speed Gourding class (during which you can learn five gourd techniques from five instructors). Both gourds are by artist Reagan Bitler.
A silent auction opens on Thursday and ends on Saturday afternoon. Participants secure a bid number and may place bids during the duration of the auction. Five games of Bingo will take place on Saturday night.
There will be two raffles and tickets (one for $1 or six for $5) are available beginning on Thursday night. Winning tickets will be drawn on Saturday evening.
Indoors, Suzi is joined by more than a dozen fellow vendors, including those who have traveled from as far as Maine and Texas (and a lady who creates kudzu baskets!). Outside are growers who bring their raw gourds in trailers. “It’s great to go shopping with all of them in one location,” says Suzi. “They are from South Carolina, Arkansas, and Kentucky.”
“Currently we have 217 enrolled participants in the 93 classes that are being offered,” says Suzi. “Although most of the students/instructors live on the east coast, there are some traveling as far as Canada and the southwestern region of the United States.”
Nearly 40 instructors will teach a range of classes, including how to make a Thunder Drum or weave a spiral rim on the top of the gourd. There will be a “continuous class” on Thursday through Saturday for walk-ins. The fee is $25.
While several classes are currently filled, walk-in registration (by cash or credit card) will be available for classes with room. (Gourd pictured is by artist Sarah Kemp.)
The Tradition of Gourds
Gourds are important in the Cherokee culture. Suzi says, “Gourds can last for hundreds and even thousands of years. Through history, many cultures used gourds as vessels to contain water and food, to make dippers and spoon, and for musical instruments (drums, rattles, and rain sticks). Gourds were decorated to add to their appeal. The Cherokee tribe recognized the many uses of gourds in days past and continue to have ceremonial use for gourds today.”
Everyone can Share in the Artistry
Friendly competition often leads to spontaneous, wonderful results. All contests are free and open to guests of the event. The Canteen Gourd Contest and Exchange encourages creativity as gourds are finished at home and brought to the event. On Saturday morning, an exchange of gourds among participants takes place. For information on the Canteen Gourd Contest and Exchange, Live Art Contest on Wednesday, May 31, and Name Badge Contest on Friday, click here.
When asked why gourd artistry is popular and much loved, Suzi responds, “Many gourd artists are attracted to gourds because gourds are natural—grown by soil, sun, and rain in a variety of shapes. Each gourd is unique and presents a canvas that can be carved, colored, painted, woven, drilled, cut apart and reassembled. From the smallest half-inch high gourds to huge bushel gourds 60-inches around, all offer a natural medium for artistic endeavors. Gourd artists look forward to a new crop of gourds each spring, so see what has grown and dried over the winter.”
How to Join the Fun
DATES: Thursday through Sunday, June 1–4, 2017.
TIMES: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, from 9 am. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, from 9 a.m. to noon.
ADMISSION: No entry fee—everyone is welcome. Class registration fees ($20–80) vary depending on supplies required. Complete descriptions and supplies for each day can be found by clicking here and scrolling to the bottom.
WHERE: Cherokee Indian Fairgrounds, 545 Tsali Blvd. in Cherokee, NC.
Please note: On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, there will be displays of finished gourds for the raffle, auction, and canteen contest. On Sunday, there are plenty of opportunity left to shop, but the large displays will be dismantled as the display gourds will have been given to the various activity winners.