Man Transforms Gourds Into Art

gourdsCLARION, Pa. (EYT) – Gourds are the canvas of choice for Clarion Artist Jeff McCombie.

Decorated hard shell gourds are said to be one of the oldest art forms dating back some 5,000 years. Early on, artists discovered the beauty and function that this art form provides and have created works of art that have withstood the test of time.

His journey began over 20 years ago when he had the opportunity to spend time in the Andes of South America. There he admired the decorated gourds that he found on display at festivals, in museums, and fine galleries. In later years, his career took him to South Dakota where he admired the pottery and decorative arts created by the native peoples.

“About 20 years ago, I started doing them, and incorporating found objects such as feathers, stones, shelves, and bark, and they were looking more Native American,” said McCombie.

“I come from a family of artists. One brother was a bronze artist, and another brother was a wood carver of carousel horses, and one brother who is a blacksmith. I came from a male-dominated art family.”

Upon retirement from his career in public education, Jeff began to explore the variety of textures and colors that this medium provides for an artist.

IMG_4844-899x600McCombie carefully hand selects the gourds that are used in his artwork. Each gourd is examined for the potential to stand out as a unique piece of art. The gourds he uses are grown in Lancaster, Arizona, and California. These locations tend to have long hot growing seasons that assure the end product will be strong enough to last for generations to come.

Prices range from $45.00 to $150.00 to $200.00 for the artwork, but some pieces in South Carolina or Arizona will fetch $300.00. His work is also available for sale at the Winkler Gallery of Fine Art in DuBois. He also has a website at

“I also go to high-end craft shows that are juried shows,” explained McCombie. “I’m scheduled up in Chautauqua, which is a big one for me. I have a dilemma. They accepted me for July, but my gourd supply was put on hold, and I couldn’t get them to the work that I needed for July. I moved it to August, and now I’m on the wait list.”

McCombie can make them look like wood when they’re finished, or pottery, bronze, or leather. The time spent on his art is seasonal, but because of the coming August show he spends between two to three hours a day, at least five to six days a week.


How It’s Done

IMG_2297After careful selection, each board is scrubbed clean on the outside to remove the dirt and debris that it has collected during the yearlong drying process. Each cord is sanded as many as eight times to obtain a perfect talent for his work. A variety of carving and burning techniques are incorporated to create each piece.

McCombie explains the process of creating his art:

“Some of the smaller gourds I can get in Lancaster, but I get a better selection from California and Arizona. I go to the farmer and these dry for a year. Once they dry, they’re like wood, and it’s like carving and working with wood at that point. You have to clean them because they’re covered with mold, I sand them multiple times, and when I cut them open they’re filled with a substance like a real sponge, and I have a tool and go in there and clean it out.”

“Once they’re cleaned out, I decide on how I’m going to design them. If I go one way and cut the top off, it would be something more like a bowl. After I go through the whole process, they are weighted. I line them with a forge wax. I melt it down and dip it inside and keep layering it, which makes it waterproof, and it gives them some weight. When they’re finished, I tell people to treat them like a piece of artwork. If you drop a piece of pottery, it’s going to break. These will crack, but they won’t break.”

IMG_4849-899x600“I try to design them to be like a vase. People put dry flowers in them. If people want to put real flowers in them, I recommend that when they take the flowers out they rinse the vase and dry it. Water won’t hurt it for a short period because they are sealed.”

“A lot of the colors in the past have been more brown, tan, and darker colors, but when I make these, I have to sell them, or they will just sit around. What I’m finding is people seem to like a lighter color in more of the blues, and I’m having fun exploring with that right now.”

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