Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gourd Dolls and Figures

The term, gourd, is occasionally used to describe a variety of crops such as squash, cucumbers, melons, and luffas. Pumpkins are also included in the Cucurbitaceae family of some 700 species of hard-shelled fruits and vegetables.  For centuries, these hard-shelled crops were cultivated and used as containers for food, water, and as eating utensils in Africa and other geographical locations.  Early and modern-day people have used cured gourds as decorative pieces. 

The purpose of this post is to share my one and only gourd "doll," which is not actually a doll at all.  It is a Santa, shown below.  Also included in this post are  images of gourd dolls shared by others.

African American Santa made from a gourd

While not a true doll, Santa "holds" an African American rag doll that I imagine in reality would have made a little girl happy to receive on Christmas morning.  I was thrilled to find Santa on RubyLane.com several years ago.  This delightful Santa has been used yearly as part of my Christmas décor.  

Decorative gourd vase made in Kenya has carved images of elephants and giraffes.

We (as in my husband and I) also have another item made from a gourd.  It is a decorative vase with carvings of elephants with raised trunks.  Husband collects elephant figurines, but only those with their trunks up.  A raised trunk is supposed to be a symbol of good luck.  I purchased the vase for him as a gift.

Images of Gourd Dolls Shared by Others

Gourd fisherman doll, photograph courtesy of Janice Larsen-Tyre and Lanny Peterson

The delightful gourd fisherman doll shown above (note the fish he holds in his left hand) has a gourd body, clay head and feet.  Applied fiber creates the hair on his head, beard, and mustache.   He is signed by his artist and dated 2002.

Bògòlanfini or bogolan ("mud cloth") is a handmade Malian cotton fabric traditionally dyed with fermented mud. It has an important place in traditional Malian culture and has, more recently, become a symbol of Malian cultural identity. [Ref. 1]   

Hollowed out and dried [calabash gourds] are a very typical utensil in households across West Africa. They are used to clean rice, carry water, and as food containers. Smaller sizes are used as bowls to drink palm wine.  [Ref. 2]

Mali mud cloth and calabash gourd pillow doll, photograph courtesy of Bonnie Lewis

Hand-dyed cloth and calabash gourds were used to create the unique mother and baby pillow doll shown above.  This pair is from the collection of Bonnie Lewis, who purchased Mother and Baby from a 1998 Gold Coast Africa catalog.

Thank you, Janice Larsen-Tyre, Lanny Peterson, and Bonnie Lewis for sharing the images of the delightful gourd fisherman and unique gourd and cloth doll pillow from Mali, West Africa.

For more information on making dolls or decorative items using gourds, the book, Making Gourd Dolls & Spirit Figures might interest you.  According to Caning.com, "Ginger Summit and Jim Widess, authors of The Complete Book of Gourd Crafting and Making Gourd Musical Instruments, pay tribute to an ancient craft in a volume both inspirational and instructional. It’s packed with images of dolls from different cultures and eras, filled with testimonials from the most creative artists working today, and brimming with advice and irresistible projects. Summit and Widess explain how to choose a gourd, mold one as it's growing, clean it properly and safely, pyrograph and sculpt faces, create movable joints, and make such creatures as a simple, limbless Stump Doll, beaded Zulu doll, endearing Hobgoblin, and stacked Mother and Daughter dolls.  Read more; see more about this title here


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  1. Hello from Spain: the pumpkin dolls are very original . I'm sure your husband will like the vase .. Keep in touch

    1. Thanks, Marta.

      Since it is not an actual elephant figure, I am enjoying the vase more.


  2. This is so neat! It reminds me of head start when we would be set loose outside to gather acorns and then make little dolls out of them with moss for hair. Maybe city folk didn't do that though, lol.

    1. Awww... how sweet. I bet those were the cutest little acorn dolls, too!


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  4. Thanks for a very informative and interesting post.


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