Since 1997, artists have showcased their gourd art at an annual Missouri festival. Contributed Photo.
Contributed Photo

Since 1997, artists have showcased their gourd art at an annual Missouri festival 

Necessity is often the foundation for creativity. 

Archaeologists have uncovered gourds dating back as far as 13,000 BC used as tools, food bowls and other items. Indigenous peoples in North America used them as utensils, storage containers, dippers, birdhouses and musical instruments. 

“In the Civil War, they used gourds as canteens,” Madonna Watermon, president of the Show-Me Gourd Society, said. “When you see an old movie with a well, those are dipper gourds.”

While gourds have practical uses, they are also works of art.

Contributed Photo

The Show Me Gourd Society, a non-profit organization, was formed in 1997. Around that same time, it began showcasing artists’ works using gourds as their media through the Show Me Gourd Society Art Festival. The event has been in Sedalia, Mo., and Springfield, Mo., since its inception, but the 2024 festival is set for June 29 and 30 in Lebanon. 

“We want to get the gourds out there and get the arts out there,” Madonna said. “It’s taking something natural, and even if you discard it, it will go back to nature. They will last forever if you take care of them; they can’t take in the sun.”

Madonna said there have been displays at shows featuring gourd pieces more than 80 years old.

“There were some that were even a little older than that,” she said.

How does an artist get into gourds? For Madonna, a retired nurse and master-level competitor, it was an “I can do that” moment.

Contributed Photo

“My husband and I went to Branson and went into a woodcarving store,” she recalled. “They had some Martin birdhouses that were gourds. All they did to them was spray paint them and cut a hole in the side; they were selling them for $35. Like everyone else, I said, ‘I can do that.’ I had a little background in art in high school, but that was my limit. We went to Silver Dollar City, and I saw some beautifully painted gourds. I got home and got on the computer and looked them up.”

She discovered American Gourd and Show-Me Gourd societies and her passion. 

The 2024 Show-Me Gourd Festival draws artists from around the county.

“We have people coming in from New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Texas and Georgia so far this year,” Madonna said, adding that the American Gourd Society and its state associations hold events around the country. “There are even shows in Hawaii. You can go there if you want to go that far with gourds.”

Some artists use paint, while others use wood-burning techniques or carve intricate scenes into the gourds. Others incorporate multiple media into one piece or sculpt a gourd into something that no longer resembles a gourd. 

Each piece requires several hours to complete.

Contributed Photo

“People might think you just take a brush and paint,” Madonna said. “I have to draw it first, then let it dry between each step; it might take me two weeks because of all of the drawing. My carved ones might take a month, a month and a half to do.”

Some artists are also gardeners and grow the gourds for their works. Others, like Madonna, prefer to purchase gourds. Just as each piece of gourd art is unique, so are the gourds. Madonna said there are hundreds of gourds that vary in size and shape. Long “dipper gourds” can be 7 or 8 feet tall, while others weigh as much as 200 pounds. Others are smaller, miniature gourds. At the festival, are divisions for growers to show off their crops. 

More than 300 artists, from youth to masters, have competed in the annual event in the past, and this year’s numbers are expected to be around 175. In each division, there are categories participants may enter, such as a painted or carved gourd.

“Usually, people have one thing they like,” Madonna said. “I carve, but I also paint. You can enter a gourd in each citatory. But, once you enter a certain level, you cannot go down a level. I’m a master, so I can’t go back to an advanced. Once you start selling in a show, in a gallery or win best of the show, you have to move into the masters.”

Contributed Photo

An exception is for older artists who can no longer compete at a higher level; they may go back one level.

Gourd artists are not required to be members of the Show-Me Gourd Society or other gourd-related organizations to enter the festival. 

“We also have free demonstrations and some classes taught by teachers from all over the country,” Madonna said, adding that there is a fee to take the classes but not to attend the show.

For more information about the society or the Show-Me Gourd Art Festival, go to


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