The origin of Mexico’s gourds

articles Living, Working, Retiring

Helyn Bercovitch

A gourd is a member of the squash family. Grown in corn fields here between the stalks, they are harvested and stored in a bodega to dry. Indigenous people used the casings as practical implements like plates, bowls and water vessels. Here in Ajijic at Avant Gourd Gallery, they are lovingly carved, painted, decorated and transformed into artful shapes and creatures. They become bugs, miniature homes, people, wall pieces, birdhouses, mobiles, lamps and even some more serious elegant works of art.

Marianne Carlson is the owner of Avante Gourd, a wonderful gallery on the corner of Ramon Corona and 16 de Septiembre, kitty corner from the Lake Chapala Society. Traveling in Mexico for many years, she bought miniatures and began selling Mexican dollhouses and miniatures through her catalogue distributed in the States, called South by Southwest.

On seeing the gourds here, she decided they would make wonderful holders for her miniatures as well as many other decorative items. Marianne says she sees different things in different gourds as every one has a unique shape and size, making each finished piece one-of-a-kind. It is almost like they are already a piece of art just waiting for her hand to mold them into whatever her imagination dictates.

Carlson has lived in Ajijic full time for 4 years and was past president of the Ajijic Society of the Arts, where she met Chuck Engebretson, a local artist who offered her the gallery a year ago. Casey and Bob Luria, ASA members at the time, were also engaged in gourdwork so the three got together and the ideas started to fly. Marianne credits the couple with her own evolution. The Lurias have now moved back to the States, but Marianne hopes they will be able to return.

Now the Gallery is home to the work of four artists and carries unique things one doesn’t find elsewhere. There are purses and vests by Phyllis Lipton, jewelry and cat cards by Dorothy Olson. Susanna Douglas provides her beadwork. Yet other gourds are crafted by Rose Marie Hall and Gerardo Padilla. Marianne explains that every person creates gourds in his or her own special style and the results are astoundingly varied.

Marianne talked about the happy effect the gourd characters seem to have on the Mexican children, who are allowed to come into the store as long as they promise not to touch. “They do something to adults as well, who seem enchanted, almost like kids in a toy shop.”

In the beginning, Marianne purchased her gourds from Julio who was selling on the Carretera. He owned a farm in Arenal, northwest of Guadalajara, where he grew many varieties in his crop of corn. Since his passing, Julio has been replaced by Sancho. Marianne purchases hundreds of gourds at a time, as there needs to be a wide choice of shapes for the many items and parts needed in their construction.

Many tools are used in the craft: varied Dremmel tools and saws for carving, sanders, acrylic paint, varnish and bits and pieces gathered as trimming, like nuts, seed pods etc. All parts of the works fashioned by Marianne come from nature and once a piece is finished, it will last forever. The beetle on our cover this month was created by Marianne and measures fourteen inches long by eight across. Custom pieces are also available from any of the artists at Avant Gourd by visiting the gallery or by appointment at 766-4133. Marianne will also hold private classes and has give seminars at the ASA. Her gourd boy, “Homer” on display in the shop won first prize at an ASA judged show.

We encourage you to visit the gallery or create your own gourd art.

Marianne says, “It’s a blast!” ( Avant Gourd hours for the low season will be posted on the gallery door. ).

This article appears courtesy of the Chapala Review, a monthly Newspaper published in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico. The focus is the Lake Chapala area. The goal is to provide quality information about the area, its stories, events, history, culture and people.

Published or Updated on: January 7, 2007 by Helyn Bercovitch © 2008
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