‘Gourd Girls’ craft a life of their own design

Unique pottery process uses gourds as molds.


Consider the lowly gourd. A member of the Cucurbits family of flowering vines that includes the cucumber and the pumpkin, the gourd is a curious anomaly in the plant world because it produces a large fruit that is inedible due to its tough rind.

In the symbiotic world of flora and fauna, where most every plant and critter seem to have a purpose, one can only assume the gourd exists to provide the world with a natural vessel.

Priscilla Wilson first considered the gourd in 1974, when she and her future wife, Janice Lymburner, decided to make planters for their mothers out of gourds purchased from a roadside vendor in the North Georgia mountains.

As she cut a 6-inch hole into the front of the gourd with a small handsaw, Wilson saw not just a vessel but an object of beauty. She was inspired to begin crafting items from the curved objects.

“The very earliest things were just totally simple,” said Wilson. “I love the gourds themselves, the shapes and everything. I didn’t think they needed embellishments. So I would just put a hole in them and hang them on the wall as a vase for dried flowers. I didn’t decorate them.”

Click below to read more about Wilson and Lymburner and the origins of their unique pottery process that uses gourds as molds.

North Georgia's 'Gourd Girls' craft a life of their own design
Sautee couple's unique pottery process uses gourds as molds.
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Gourd Girls craft a life of their own design

Unique pottery process uses gourds as molds.

KickerThis is a kicker.

Consider the lowly gourd. A member of the Cucurbits family of flowering vines that includes the cucumber and the pumpkin, the gourd is a curious anomaly in the plant world because it produces a large fruit that is inedible due to its tough rind. In the symbiotic world of flora and fauna, where most every plant and critter seem to have a purpose, one can only assume the gourd exists to provide the world with a natural vessel. Priscilla Wilson first considered the gourd in 1974, when she and her future wife, Janice Lymburner, decided to make planters for their mothers out of gourds purchased from a roadside vendor in the North Georgia mountains. As she cut a 6\-inch hole into the front of the gourd with a small handsaw, Wilson saw not just a vessel but an object of beauty. [She was inspired to begin crafting items from the curved objects.](http://gourdplace.com/) The very earliest things were just totally simple, said Wilson. I love the gourds themselves, the shapes and everything. I didnt think they needed embellishments. So I would just put a hole in them and hang them on the wall as a vase for dried flowers. I didnt decorate them. Having recently begun working as a high school English teacher in Dahlonega and discovering she didnt like it, Wilson had been entertaining ideas for less conventional ways to make a living. Craft fairs were becoming popular and prolific at the time, so she decided to rent a booth and sell her gourd creations. I went to one or two craft shows with those simple things, and I realized the general public didnt get as excited with plain gourds as I did, she recalled. I pretty quickly learned to create embellishments with wood burning and carving.

Wilson soon established herself as a gourd artist on the craft show circuit, with Lymburner at her side, handling the business side of things. She eventually quit her teaching job to spend her time making containers and planters carved with wildflowers, as well as Christmas tree ornaments, wheeled toys, puzzles and masks. In the context of the times, Wilsons decision at age 26 to lease 7 acres and become a gourd farmer in 1977 wasnt so far\-fetched. The youth culture was turning up its collective nose at the 9\-to\-5 rat race of their parents generation, and the back\-to\-land movement had taken root. For a dozen years, the women grew gourds, and Wilson continued to produce gourd crafts. Along the way, the women learned about the ancient traditions of gourd art and began collecting stunning examples of it from around the world. In the early 80s, they opened their first shop and a small museum where they displayed their collection and sold Wilsons wares. By then, Lymburner had quit her teaching job to help manage the business, which still barely made enough to keep them afloat. In the early 90s, the women relocated their shop and museum to a pretty piece of land on a pond in Sautee with a house where they could also live. Still they struggled to make ends meet. Wilson took a job for a while working at a rape crisis center to make extra money while Lymburner ran the store. Then one day in 2000, Wilson was driving down Ga. 365 when an image popped in her head. It was of a dried shard of gourd lying in a field, something shed seen dozens of times at the farm. But inside was a thin layer of clay, as though it had been splashed in from a storm. The image began to recur, only this time it was a picture of liquid clay slip being poured into a gourd. Something was nudging her toward making pottery from gourd molds, a concept she had never considered before.

I got obsessed after I had that vision and started talking to my pottery\-enthusiast friends. Then I started experimenting, Wilson said. You look back and think, gosh, I was crazy to keep trying, because I had failure after failure. But 10 months later, she had her first show of what she calls Gourd Impressions Pottery, a patented process she developed. Today she uses the process to make large decorative bowls, dinner plates, salad bowls, vases and candle holders crafted from molds made from gourds. The exterior of the pieces has a bumpy, rustic gourd\-like quality, but the smooth interiors shine in deep, saturated shades of glazed green, blue, russet or butterscotch. People were pretty excited about it, Wilson said about her first show. We sold a lot of it. It was a little on the primitive side compared to what it is now, but people got it. From there, it was a gradual thing. After about the first six or eight years, it had become our main livelihood. Today their business, called Gourd Place, has three components: a large building devoted to Wilsons original gourd art and a few imports for sale; a small museum of gourd art from around the world; and a showroom of Gourd Impressions Pottery, where customers clamor for the latest pieces. Wilson and Lymburner, now 66 and 70 respectively, are pioneers of a sort. They not only innovated a new way to make pottery, but living together as a couple in the 1970s in the North Georgia mountains put them at the vanguard of a social movement, whether they knew it or not at the time. For decades, they kept their relationship under wraps, passing themselves off as just friends. Meanwhile, they established themselves as good neighbors who got involved in church activities and civic organizations and hosted goofy gourd\-themed parties like the Gourd\-o\-lympic Games and the Once Upon a Gourd Gathering featuring skits by the Gourd Time Players. Wilson and Lymburner, whom neighbors affectionately call the Gourd Girls, began coming out to their friends and family in the 90s, and in 2015, they married on their 41st anniversary. This is a very conservative area, but we only had a weird little hate thing happen to us one time, Wilson said. Mostly people are very nice to us. I think this county, along with the rest of society, is making strides.

**IF YOU GO** **Gourd Place.** 2319 Duncan Bridge Road, Sautee. Free. April 1\-Dec. 23: 10 a.m.\-5 p.m. Mondays\-Saturdays, 1\-5 p.m. Sundays. January\-March: by appointment only. 706\-865\-4048, [www.gourdplace.com](http://www.gourdplace.com/). **More North Georgia pottery** **Hickory Flat Pottery.** 13664 Ga. 197 N., Clarkesville. Free. 10 a.m.\-6 p.m. Mondays\-Saturdays, noon\-6 p.m. Sundays. 706\-947\-0030, [www.hickoryflatpottery.com](http://www.hickoryflatpottery.com/). **The Willows Pottery.** 7273 S. Main St., Helen. Free. 11 a.m.\-8 p.m. Sundays\-Thursdays, 11 a.m.\-9 p.m. Fridays\-Saturdays. 706\-878\-1344, [www.thewillowspottery.com.](http://www.thewillowspottery.com/) **Mark of the Potter.** 9982 Ga. 197 N., Clarkesville. Free. 10 a.m.\-6 p.m. daily. Closes at 5 p.m. January\-March. 706\-947\-3440, [www.markofthepotter.com.](http://www.markofthepotter.com/) **Folk Pottery Museum.** Sautee Nacoochee Center, 283 Ga. 255 N., Sautee Nacoochee. $5 adults, $4 seniors and $2 for children. 10 a.m.\-5 p.m. Mondays\-Saturdays, 1\-5 p.m. Sundays. 706\-878\-3300, [www.folkpotterymuseum.com.](http://snca.org/folkpotteryWebsite/fpm/home.php)



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