If you’re into gourd art in Cullman, or even arts and crafts generally, you’ve probably heard of Katie Westmoreland. For more than 12 years, she’s been turning the durable local offspring of the Cucurbitaceae plant family — one of this area’s signature pieces of old-time rural life — into imaginative and award-winning works of art, all from her small West Point-area farm.
Fresh off being named Gourd Queen at this year’s Alabama Gourd Festival in Hartselle, Westmoreland would be the first to tell you there’s a lot more to her gourd art than just a good imagination and a steady supply of paint. She’s also a farmer, cultivating and curating the shapely plants while they’re still on the vine; as well as a businesswoman whose local shop — Katie’s Gourds & More — is beginning to find a foothold in several businesses in Cullman and Blount counties.
The Times spoke with Westmoreland recently about how she got started in the surprisingly deep world of gourd art, as well as what keeps her invested in the robust community of creators who, season after season, elevate the hardy husks of the lowly gourd to heirloom collectible status.
How did you get your start doing gourd art?
KW: I went to my first gourd show in 2008 and thought to myself, ‘I can grow them for all of these people to craft on.’ Being a crafter all my life, I had come to a point in my life where I had to set it aside and focus on working full time. I took a class at that show and caught the ‘gourd bug,’ as they say. I started seeing all kinds of things that I wanted to try to do, or things that I thought that I could do.
Can you describe your farm and studio setup?
KW: We have three acres, and once I bought a tiller and some seeds, I knew that I would have plenty of canvases to work with for all of the creations that I wanted to make. The lady who sat next to me in my first class had been a gourd pioneer and took me under her wing. She got me set up and encouraged me to reach for the stars! The rest is history.
Year after year, we plant around 12 varieties of different hard shell and soft shell gourds. We own three acres, but turn 2.5 of that into gourd fields and arbors. On the arbors is where I do the manipulation of the extra-long-handle dipper gourds when they flourish.
We are based out of our home in West Point with a Vinemont address. We sell most of our washed raw gourds out of our 16’ enclosed trailer that is in our driveway. We also go to gourd shows, and occasionally to the farmer’s market and craft shows.
If you don’t mind, tell us a little bit about the notoriety you’ve earned within gourd art community.
KW: In 2017 I entered into the state level competition and won 1st place at the Alabama Gourd Show. This qualified me to enter into the national level, where I won 3rd place. I still have this gourd — it is called the Jim Story Award because a man in Indiana started it, and when he passed away, they named it in his honor.
This year’s gourd show in Hartselle [which was held in September] was a success. I earned the Terry Camp award this year by entering the most entries in competition.
Then also, I won the Gourd Queen honor for a year. This is based on a point system: Any 1st place ribbon earns three points, 2nd place earns two points, and 3rd place earns one point. I had earned the most points with the entries that I had entered in competition.
This earned me two very nice ribbons and a gourd pin!
Why gourds? What is it about them that’s so appealing to artists?
KW: There are over 700 different varieties of gourds, so the purposes and things that can be done with them are endless! Their history goes back to the Bible days when God grew a gourd plant to shade Jonah when he went to Ninevah to preach. He also used them to decorate the temple. Both of these scriptures can be found in the book of Jonah.
Gourds were popular in Africa in the 1400s to use as containers for spices and food. They’re so versatile: eating utensils, warfare, musical instruments. I love watching the old shows and movies and looking for gourds to see if they were used. You will see them by a well, where the dipper gourds were used there to get a cold drink after working in the hot fields. They are the most popular selection today to be made into Purple Martin birdhouses. We sell out of ours every year! People ask me why I don’t have any houses up for Martins. It’s because I never have any extra to put up here!
How would you describe the artistic approach to your gourd creations?
KW: I like doing everything that I have tried. I have a wide variety of things to choose from. My favorite to do, though, is carve and wood burn.
However, they take longer and are more expensive, so they don’t move as well as some other pieces. My least favorite is making ornaments, I think. I’m involved in three different patches [“Patches” is the gourd community’s name for a local club of like-minded enthusiasts.] That includes a group from the Alabama Gourd Society that meets once a month in a local area to work on different techniques on a gourd.
I’m the leader of the Cullman patch, I’m a member of the River City patch that meets in Danville, and a member of the Huntsville patch. So I have a lot of projects going at the same time.
Where can people find your gourd art for sale?
KW: As of late I have had help from a friend putting some of my finished merchandise in three different shops: The Man Cave in Vinemont, Leldon’s in the Warehouse District in Cullman, Art Therapy Gifts in Rainbow Crossing [in Blount County], and soon to be at the Rustic Sunflower in Blountsville. We host classes in-house, and at Art Therapy Gifts when the demand is there.
Currently, my gourd art can be found mostly at shows and markets.
I do have a website, but haven’t received a lot of feedback from it. I am on Facebook under Katie Westmoreland and Katie’s Gourds and More.
People can also call me at 256-347-9480 — this is my full-time job now, so I’m here most days. My business hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I’m very flexible. I know that people have tight schedules. Just communicate what you need, and we can work it out! We can even do a porch pickup, or sometimes I come to customers or meet in the middle. We also can ship. We are here for the customer!