From Out of Don Sharp’s Gourd Come Works of Art

Tow resident Don Sharp uses gourds, the typical garden variety, as his canvas for creating works of art. He first became interested in gourd art about seven years ago after taking his granddaughter to a workshop on making birdhouses out of gourds. She wasn’t very impressed, but Sharp quickly found himself exploring all facets of gourd art. He displays his works at the Buchanan Arts and Crafts Gallery, 17534 Texas 29 East in Buchanan Dam. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

BUCHANAN DAM — Don Sharp, a licensed commercial pilot with four decades' experience and a corporate vice president, wasn’t looking to become a renowned gourd artist when he took his granddaughter to a gourd birdhouse workshop seven years ago in the Dallas area.

“My granddaughter, she didn’t think much of it,” Sharp recalled.

But he found it interesting and even chatted with the instructors a bit. A few months later, he was returning from South Texas to the Metroplex and passed through Fredericksburg at the very moment the Texas Gourd Society (yes, there is one) was holding its annual Lone Star Gourd Festival (and yes, there is one, too).

“I pulled in there and stepped in, and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. There is more to this than birdhouses,’” Sharp said.

He soon found himself in a gourd patch (a local group of gourd artisans) turning the often-underappreciated garden gourd into works of art. Each month, the gourd patch featured a new technique or skill demonstration, and Sharp was right there learning everything he could.

When the Lone Star Gourd Festival rolled back around, Sharp attended and tried to pack in as many workshops as possible.

“Over the years, I’ve added different things to this,” he said, referring to the variety of skills and techniques he now uses in his art.

And that art is now a lot more than birdhouses — though he can still make those.

While he works at his home in Tow, Sharp displays and sells his creations at the Buchanan Arts and Crafts Gallery, 17534 Texas 29 East in Buchanan Dam.

An example Don Sharp's art: a gourd handwrapped with pine needles. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Sharp pulled a large, elongated, hollowed-out gourd from his collection. On one side is a picture of a bear; on the other side is a mountain lion. It appears to be a drawing with fine detail, but looks can be deceiving. Instead of “drawing” the pictures, Sharp uses a fine-tipped pen and creates the depictions out of dots — a lot of them.

There’s so much more to gourd art as Sharp pulled two other pieces from his collection. One hardly resembles a gourd and the other clearly is one that has been formed into a bowl. At the top of that one, he handwrapped pine needles to create a crest around the edge. The other piece is almost entirely wrapped in pine needles with one gourd shard serving as the base of a berry basket.

“Who knew you could do this with pine needles, but it’s probably my favorite type of gourd art,” he said.

Gourd art is limited only by the imagination of the artist. Sharp is continually amazed by the work others produce and keeps trying new things — even adding other artforms such as pyrography, which is basically woodburning.

He’s even begun making masks out of gourds. One boasts a series of stark, black-and-white geographic patterns.

“It’s called Zentangle, and it uses very definite patterns, and each of the patterns has a name,” Sharp said about the design.

He’s combined several of the Zentangle patterns on the mask.

As for how a gourd goes from a dried garden variety to a work of art in his hands, Sharp doesn’t necessarily start with a completed project in mind.

Don Sharp used a form of carving to create this gourd relief art piece. He often doesn’t know what he’ll create from a gourd until he actually picks it up and gets a feel for it. But even then, an art project often evolves as Sharp goes along. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

“When I find a gourd or someone gives one to me, I look at it and try to decide what it wants to be,” he said. When he starts, there’s no way of knowing how it will end. “I really don’t know what it will look like, but I adjust as it evolves.”

Sharp keeps learning and expanding his artistic horizons. He’s the vice president of the Texas Gourd Society (texasgourdsociety.org) and is one of the founders of the Hill Country Gourd Patch. One of the best ways to learn the art is by attending workshops and events or sitting in at the Hill Country Gourd Patch meetings, which are the second Saturday of the month from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Lakeshore Branch Library, 7346 Texas 261 in Buchanan Dam.

Though he’s been a gourd artist for almost seven years now, Sharp never considered selling them. After retiring two years ago and settling in Tow, he joined the Buchanan Arts and Craft Guild and learned that to display his pieces in the gallery, he had to put a price tag on them.

“Now, they go pretty fast,” Sharp said. So he keeps on creating, often having three or four pieces in the works at a time. “I never thought I’d be doing this, but walking into that festival I thought, ‘Wow. There is so much more to this.’”

And he was right.

You can see Sharp’s gourd art as well as the work of other Highland Lakes artists and craftspeople at the Buchanan Arts and Crafts Gallery. It's open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. The guild also offers a number of classes and workshops.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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