It’s harvest season: a time when farm-goers hit the stands to pick up an assortment of gourds for their fall displays. Oddly shaped and sometimes warty, gourds have been used as a seasonal decoration for nearly 100 years, and even longer for other purposes.
Archaeologists estimate that humans have been using domesticated gourds in the Americas for the last 10,000 years. Possessing a sturdy, waterproof skin, gourds can be transformed into all kinds of creations, from musical instruments to water floats.
For local artist Jennifer Therrian, they’re the ultimate canvas — meant to be cherished well past the fall season. “You can do anything on them,” she explained. “You can sculpt them, paint them, burn them. You can even manipulate them while they’re growing too.”
Therrian is a professional seamstress, a long-time basket weaver, a master quilter and, more recently, a gourd artist. Using the gourd’s hard, dried shell, she crafts unique pieces like luminaries, plant holders, animal sculptures and aroma diffusers. About four years ago, Therrian stumbled upon the niche art form while looking for holiday gifts for her family.
“I’ve always made Christmas presents for my family,” she explained. “I was like, maybe I’ll make a gourd birdhouse.” After a successful first attempt, she decided to become a member of the American Gourd Society. She began taking classes and attending workshops at the Pennsylvania chapter, where she’s learned a variety of techniques and purchases more supplies. Though she grows her own gourds, it takes about a year for them to dry, so she relies on online vendors and meet-ups to get most of her materials.
Since starting, Therrian has created her own distinct style that combines her seamstress work with her gourd art. Many of her pieces are adorned with fabric, drapery tassels, rings from curtain rods, and other embellishments that could be found lying around a craft room.
“I try to incorporate all of the different talents of my life,” she explained. “I bring my sewing into it, my basket weaving, my embroidery — I try to put a little of all of those things into it so it reflects where I’ve been.”
On several of her pieces, intricate burnings tell a story. “This one is called Jen’s story, and it’s a story of me,” she said, holding up a cannonball gourd with drawings of a quilter etched into it. As she rotates the gourd, different scenes emerge to tell the next part of the story. “As I’m quilting, I start to look out the window and realize that it’s time to go out to the garden, water the flowers and rake a little bit. Then, at the end of the day, I go sit in my chair and think about what I’m going to quilt the next day.”
Other designs incorporate elements of her childhood memories, like an engraving of a swing hanging from a tree. “To me, it’s like therapy,” she said.
Therrian’s work can be found at local fairs like Hallockville’s Country Fair and the Riverhead Country Fair, where she’s won awards for her gourd sculptures. Her artwork will be available for purchase next at a fair hosted by The Suffolk County Historical Society on Dec. 3.