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Saturday Art: Tribal Gourd Art

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Label for gourd bowl

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Gourd bowl

Thank you, demi, for hosting today, because I can’t be around this morning.

When the Europeans arrived on this continent they met a culture that made extensive use of the natural resources around them.   The native tribes lived in a welter of products that sprang from the plant and animal life around them, products that had been reduced to a much lower level back in their European lands by the larger populations there.

Then they found abundant fur/pelts and such appealing new products as tobacco, the new colonists started a trade with native tribes that replaced some everyday items, and this included the use of gourds for cooking, eating, and general storage.   Today, native cultures have revived those products and are recapturing some lost history from excavation of past sites of their occupation as well as from traditions still handed on among the people.  There is a growing recognition of objects and art from gourds; “No longer considered just a craft, gourd art is being elevated to the point where it has been featured in a number of galleries and magazines and exhibited at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C..”

In visiting the Native American museum of the Smothsonian this past week, I’ve seen a number of gourd works, many of them contemporaneous, and some from the past.   It’s interesting to me that when I try to research ‘gourd bowls’, I find lots of site for the craft itself, lots of sales pitches, but little background information.

The State of New York has about the only historical information I came across, a mention that metal pots and bowls replaced the use of gourd cooking gear – as metal objects proved more durable and were not a craft item the tribes had learned before Europeans came here.

What did the Native Americans want from the Europeans?   They wanted metal pots and copper kettles to replace the gourd bowls and clay pots they had always used. They also wanted metal ax heads that would cut better than their stone ones.  They also wanted glass beads, decorative jewelry, woolen blankets, and guns.  They became more and more dependent on the European goods and even welcomed the setting up of trading posts.

Guns dramatically changed the Natives’ way of life.  Hunting with a gun allowed the Natives to kill more animals for food and fur, which upset the natural balance.  In some areas, the beaver population was nearly wiped out by the fur trade.  Beavers were near extinction in New York.

Today, we’re relearning the use of nature’s offerings, and rediscovering its beauty.   Utility has been replaced as overweening in its value, as life becomes ever less beautiful when it predominates.   While the tribes had used their gourd products for everything from cooking and storage to medicines and ceremonial objects, we are only beginning to rediscover their solid as well as ornamental presence.

Maybe there’s hope for us yet.

Gourd bowl

(Photo courtesy of at

Gourd art

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Ruth Calvo

Ruth Calvo

I've blogged at The Seminal for about two years, was at cabdrollery for around three. I live in N.TX., worked for Sen.Yarborough of TX after graduation from Wellesley, went on to receive award in playwriting, served on MD Arts Council after award, then managed a few campaigns in MD and served as assistant to a member of the MD House for several years, have worked in legal offices and written for magazines, now am retired but addicted to politics, and join gladly in promoting liberals and liberal policies.