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What gourds have to do with history

October 8, 2011

I have to admit: when I first heard about the idea to have artists decorate birdhouse gourds (aka calabashes) as a fundraiser for the North Platte Valley Museum, I was like, “Huh? What do gourds have to do with history?”

Then the rationalization portion of my brain kicked in.

First of all, gourds are a natural material, and way back in history, before everything became plastic, people made stuff out of natural materials. (See the calabash link above for traditional cultural uses of these gourds.)

Secondly, art and history are linked. They both fall under the humanities. The humanities help us to understand what it means to be human. Both museum exhibits and works of art can give us insights into the human condition.

Thirdly, the decorated gourds the artists submitted are superb. The unique display of the gourds in the gallery has the potential to boost community awareness of the museum. The gourd auction has the potential to improve the museum’s finances.

As I’ve said again and again, the creativity and diversity of the gourds is just amazing. (Have I mentioned lately what a fantastic artist community we have here in western Nebraska?)

Despite the news coverage and the photos on the museum Facebook page and events website, the message still isn’t getting through to everyone. These are FINE ART gourds, folks.

Someone who came into the museum on business last week at first declined to take a look, saying, “I’m not into gourds.” (They relented and were duly impressed.)

COME SEE THE GOURDS FOR YOURSELVES! (Corner of 11th and J Streets in Gering – in the unobtrusive mustard-colored steel building on the edge of Oregon Trail Park south of downtown.)

The gourds are distributed on tables throughout the museum. (Note: the gourd locations will likely change after Oct. 13, when the gourds will be temporarily whisked over to the Gering Civic Center for display at the historical association’s annual meeting.)

Here are four of the gourds in front of the museum’s Simmons crazy quilt (which was once invited to be part of a display in the Smithsonian Institution).

Here are four gourds in front of the museum’s Heritage Wall (where area residents have sponsored the installation of photos and short bios of their ancestors).

Notice the bags hanging in front of the gourds that say “tickets”?

For every dollar you donate to the museum through October 21 (museum open M-F 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sat-Sun 1 to 4 p.m.), you get a ticket you can use to vote for your favorite gourds. (I use the plural noun because it is impossible to pick a single favorite.) The top-scoring gourd will earn the “people’s choice” honor.

The ticket sales raise money for the museum to help offset the fact that admission is waived during the voting period. The free riders are just about offset by the extra-generous voting visitors. The bonus is, we’re getting many visitors to see the gourds who have never been to the museum before. (And, these new visitors are touring the entire museum, thanks to our cunning placement of the gourds throughout the museum gallery.)

The big financial boost for the museum (so we hope!) will come Sunday, October 23, when the gourds are sold at live auction during the museum’s 50th birthday party. The party runs from 1 to 4 p.m., the auction starts at 3.

Up for auction will be the 27 gourds currently on display in the museum PLUS another 16 gourds decorated by area high school art students. (The high school gourds will be on display the day of the auction from 1 to 3 p.m. Every museum visitor that day will get one ticket to vote for their favorite high school gourd. The student artist and high school with the most votes earn the “student people’s choice” and “most gourdgeous high school” honors.)

That’s 43 gourds to be auctioned. We really, really need museum supporters and art aficionados to turn out on October 23 with their checkbooks in hand. Let no gourd go unsold!

(Note: a completely undecorated gourd with a hole drilled in it for use as a birdhouse goes for $15 online, while art gourds are going for hundreds of dollars.)

Preliminarily, things are looking promising. There have already been inquiries about phoning in bids for art buyers who cannot attend the auction in person.

I want to to end this post with a BIG THANK YOU to the artists who gave of their time and talent, to the high school art teachers who took on this project for their students, and to the gourd grower. You all rock!

UPDATE: the 10/9/11 Star-Herald has a great story on the high school student gourds on the youth page (the back page of the Family Album section).

UPDATE: North Platte Valley Museum permanently closed in 2013 to join forces with the former Farm And Ranch Museum to become Legacy of the Plains Museum at 2930 Old Oregon Trail in Gering. See the Legacy of the Plains Museum website for the most recent updates.

Copyright 2011 by Katie Bradshaw

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2011 12:41 pm

    See ya the 23rd!

  2. October 9, 2011 4:02 pm

    I’ve learned about so many neat things that are happening here by reading your blog. I’m going to need to start taking notes so I remember what happens at what time for next year! The fine art gourds are now on the top of the ‘things-to-see’ list…and the rest of the museum since I haven’t made it over there since moving to town…

  3. Sydney Warner Greaves permalink
    October 15, 2011 9:10 am

    So enjoy your blog, revisiting my old hometown thru your eyes! I would be first in line at the auction if we could get there – PLEASE try to figure out a phone or online auction option and I will be there!

  4. vicki conquest permalink
    January 7, 2012 6:53 pm

    my question was for what use were the gourds before they became popular to craft

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