Gussied up gourds

Garden inspiration | Artist grows the canvas she uses to fashion wild and whimsical creations

OTTER POINT, B.C. — Anne Boquist is a serious gourder.

At her five-acre home on Vancouver Island, she grows the gourds that will be transformed into unusual and distinctive objects like clocks, containers and conversation pieces.

“I love to play around with them, see what works,” said Boquist, 60.

She was bitten by the gourd bug in 2003 during a holiday in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. She came across a rustic-looking gourd used to carry liquids, with fraying rope around it and a dried corncob for a stopper. She bought it and then began growing gourds in her own greenhouse.

Boquist produces a crop of about 40 to 60 gourds every second year because the plants are heavy feeders. She starts the seeds indoors in April, transfers them to the greenhouse when it’s warmer and then lets them flourish.

Because the females flower at night, Boquist works in the dark with a headlamp and paintbrush, transferring pollen from one gourd to another.

Gardeners can change the shape of their gourds by placing pieces of plywood around them.

Necks can be tied and growing gourds can be placed in special gourd moulds. Boquist gets her seeds and supplies from the Ontario-based Northern Dipper Farm.

The United States has a well-established group of gourd crafters, many belonging to the American Gourd Society. In Canada, gourd artists can join the much smaller Canadian Gourd Society.

Boquist’s gourds usually mature by late July. They remain on the vine to dry out. When the seeds can be heard rattling inside, the gourds are ready to use.

“They’ll get all mouldy and nasty on the outside but you just scrub off the mould,” she said.

Sometimes, the gourds have remarkable natural patterns, which Boquist highlights in the finishing process.

Once washed, the gourds are ready to be burned, stained, collaged, cut, coloured or have items glued to them.

In the workshop, Boquist has amassed a treasure trove of quaint, odd and fantastic items. There are bobble-head dolls and small children’s toys, ribbons and old tin containers, bottle caps and watch pieces.

Boquist is a frequent thrift store shopper and she loves to work with found items.

“It opens your eyes to try different things,” she said. “Everything has potential.”

The creative process starts when she finds a gourd she fancies and looks at her pile of materials.

One of her inspirations is the U.S. artist Michael deMeng, who creates sinister-looking art often out of metal scraps.

At the 2012 Sooke Fine Arts Show, her gourd piece sold within minutes. Called Remarkably, Dr. Chui Still Made House-Calls, the gourd that became a dragon on wheels with an embedded clock and a bobble-headed doll atop, sold for $450.

The sly humour and pop art in Boquist’s pieces was not lost on buyer Max van Manen, a former University of Alberta professor who has travelled to China.

“I like the idea of using found objects in art,” he said. “There’s symbolism, but nothing traditional about what she did.”

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