Club Spotlight: Gourd Art

Sometimes, you can literally grow your passion.

Roughly a decade ago, Donna Geiger was stepping back from her executive career in accounting and finance. The Wisconsin woman had a vague idea that she wanted to get in touch with her creative side. And then she bought a packet of seeds.

“I don’t remember why exactly;” Geiger says, “I must have been attracted by the picture on the seeds.”

The seeds were gourd seeds. Gourds are related to pumpkins, squash and other vine fruit, and come in a few varieties, including the ornamental or decorative gourd that is popular in autumnal displays, and the hardshell gourd that is inedible, but, as Geiger puts it, “suitable for all kind of art media.”

Geiger’s initial packet of seeds produced about a half-dozen large hardshell gourds. At the time, Geiger was no gourd expert, and she didn’t know what to do with her bounty. “So, I got on the Internet,” she says, “and found the Wisconsin Gourd Society.”

Today, Geiger is the president of the group.

The Wisconsin Gourd Society, which belongs to the GroupWorks family of activity clubs, is one of 25 state chapters of the American Gourd Society.

The American Gourd Society is a 2,100-member-plus 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to, as its president Raymond Konan puts it, “spreading the word that the Gourd is the most important plant in all of human history.”

Like its parent organization, the Wisconsin Gourd Society is all about spreading the good word — or, the gourd word, as it were.

“Our mission is to educate people about gourds, and educate them about the importance of gourds in history,” Geiger says. “Ten thousand years ago, gourds were used to carry water,  used as storage containers, or as floats for fishing nets.”

“Today, hard-shell gourds are still used around the world, but in the U.S. mostly for music, art, crafts, and bird houses,” Konan adds. “They add charm, culture, history, and natural beauty to our lives. They give us gourders wonderful connections with each other.”

The creative side of the gourd is what is, in fact, is what hooked Geiger.

Early on in her days with the gourd society, Geiger attended a festival. “I was blown away by all the different gourd arts and techniques,” she says. “Any form of art, with any media, you can do with a gourd. You can weave on it,  you can attach clay to them, you can carve it.”

Geiger had found her creative muse. While she didn’t consider herself an artist — and to this day views herself as more of an artisan — she began to attend gourd-art classes.

“i just didn’t think i had the creative ability,” Geiger says. “But I can see the progress of where I started from to where I am now. It’s very rewarding to come home with something that other people admire.”

While art — gourd or otherwise — can be a solitary activity, Geiger says belonging to a gourd club has kept her plugged into new techniques, and just overall engaged.

“You’re working with people who understand your passion for something,” Geiger says.

When Geiger received an outreach email from GroupWorks this summer, she jumped at the chance to bring her chapter to the platform. The group currently uses GroupWorks to communicate with its roughly 70 members, and to post links for art tutorials.

On a broader scale, Geiger is looking to bolster membership, and pursue younger members via events that encourage children to try their hands at gourd art. The group also makes a point at its festivals to hand out gourd seeds.

After all, you never know what might grow.