Nature Provides Canvas for Clarksville Artist

Story by Jeannie Stone

Linda Ashmore is an artist who works on an unusual medium. This time of year, the retired Lamar elementary school art teacher — who paints and photographs on the side — resides for a month at in Missouri. There, her time- honored craft fits into the old timey theme of the Silver Dollar City Heritage Festival. Ashmore transforms gourds, provided by Mother Nature and often called “nature’s pottery,” into beautiful vessels.

In the manner of the Native Americans, Ashmore undergoes the messy business of drying and cutting the gourds before actually decorating them.

“It takes a year and a half before you can use them,” husband Harry said.

Growing gourds is not a crop for the faint of heart or those lacking a rather large patch of ground. A random seed blown into Ashmore’s yard took root and completely took over her side yard.

“Harry joked that we should plant them all over the front and back yards, so he wouldn’t have to mow anymore,” she said.

Gourds are among the oldest cultivated plants. Remains of gourds, used extensively as utensils, have been found in Egyptian tombs of the Twelfth Dynasty and were prevalent in Native American cultures from the earliest recorded findings. Gourds are the only plants known to man believed to have survived from pre-historic times.

Wild Buffalo gourds grow on vines measuring 750 feet long. For all the fuss over the growing, the real work begins once they’ve been properly harvested.

“If they’re not mature when you take them off the vines, they’ll rot, and they’re not good for anything,” Ashmore said.

She first punctures the gourds will a knife and cuts into them using a special gourd saw. She then gathers the gourds and cleans out the insides. She uses shells, spoons and gourd shards to scoop out the goop.

“I use real sophisticated tools,” she said. “Really, you use whatever you need to make it work.” She scrubs them with steel wool.

Ashmore began with apple designs and has graduated to leaves.

“The leaves work out so well because the leather dyes I use are translucent and allow the natural grain created by mold on the cellulose gourds to show through. I sell a lot of leaf gourds,” she said.

She also creates gourd bowls, dippers, Christmas ornaments and even jewelry.

“Harry and I love the beauty of the West, and I decided to paint a pendant with a rendering of Monument Valley on it. A friend who saw it told me I ought to make some to sell, so I did.”

This year, Ashmore has added purses made from Canteen gourds and glycerine soap with tiny Loufa gourds inside.

“Gourds are so versatile; you can do anything with them,” she said. “Back in the Old West, Canteen gourds were used because the shell would allow airflow which kept the water cool. Native Americans would place hot rocks in gourds and boil water and cook soups in them.”

Ashmore is always ready to try something new with the gourds and recently added a deer antler to a Mini Chinese Bottle gourd for use as a pitcher. While traveling to China with an educational group during her teaching years, Ashmore was surprised to find several examples of gourd art. A soft- shell gourd variety is considered a delicacy in Asia.

Ashmore’s participation in the Salute to the American Cowgirl Heritage Festival show is a chance for her to display her craft and discuss the history of her art form to thousands of folks.

“Last year there were 340,000 park visitors between September and October,” she said, as she slips into her red cowboy boots, and she and Harry board their camper heading north.

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