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Art for the senses at the Kentucky Gourd Show

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By Mallory Bilger

Art isn’t just about seeing it with your eyes – it’s about touching, exploring and experiencing – and that is exactly what Kentucky Gourd Society member and artist Patrice Will is hoping will make this weekend’s 16th annual Kentucky Gourd Art Show unique.

Will is a teaching artist for the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft and VSA Arts of Kentucky, not to mention a gourd enthusiast. This spring she had the opportunity to spend six weeks teaching art to Kentucky School for the Blind students in kindergarten through 11th grade. She was free to select her methods and supplies. To the excitement of the KGS, Will decided to exclusively use gourds as the focus of her art classes.

“We try to diversify so kids get a rich experience,” Will said. “We focus on things that are more tactile.”

Will taught the students that gourd art doesn’t only include painted or traditionally decorated gourds. The students used methods such as layering paper mache, dry brush painting and even creating bobble head gourds to create unique and tactile art that visually impaired gourd enthusiasts could enjoy.

“The number of teachers who kept stopping in, they were hearing their students talk about the gourds. (The teachers) were all equally amazed. A lot of students are interested in being able to grow their own gourds,” Will said of her experience at the school for the blind.

The students produced about 50 unique pieces that amazed Will so much she wanted them to feature them in this year’s Kentucky Gourd Art Show.  The Gourd Society embraced Will’s idea and created a new “touchable gourds” category.

While many of the pieces the KSB students created will be entered in that category, many pieces will be featured in other youth categories as well. The new category allows gourd show participants to touch those entries and experience gourds and gourd art in a new way.

“Normally you cannot touch any of the exhibits. (The gourd society) jumped on it and said, ‘Let’s create a whole new category,’” Will said. “We realized this was a project that was making accessibility important.”

Will said every student she taught would have one or two pieces featured in this weekend’s show. She added that, with the support of the KGS, the dry gourd exhibit would also be accessible to the visually impaired. Various dry gourds will be displayed with the gourd’s variety written in print and in Braille.

KGS President and Spencer County resident Janet Barnett said she is excited about the KSB students’ contributions to the 2010 show.

“(Patrice) came to the Society with the idea and we loved it,” she said. “That’s our main focus this year is to feature the School for the Blind plus, we think we’re the only state chapter that has promoted the visually impaired.”

Will said all the students and their families have been invited to attend the show at Spencer County Elementary School, which is expected to feature around 30 gourd vendors from 12 states.

This year’s show is themed “Horsing Around with Gourds” in honor of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games scheduled to take place in Lexington this fall. Barnett said there was a category designed especially for horse-themed gourds.

Spectators can expect to see gourd art from people of all ages ranging in style from painted, stained, dyed, carved, wood burned gourds and more. Gourd basketry and jewelry will also be on display and a special gourd photo exhibit featuring student work will be a highlight of the show.

Barnett said the addition of the tactile entries this year exemplifies how the show has grown and changed over the last 16 years.

“The crafting part has just grown because the medium can be used for any form of art. I have seen it come around where it was some art and a lot of growing, but now it’s still the growing but more of the art. It’s more the quality of the art has improved over the years. The quality just keeps getting better each year,” she said.

In addition to the exhibits, a variety of gourd art workshops will be held Friday at First Baptist Church of Taylorsville on Main Street. Saturday and Sunday art workshops will be located at Spencer County Elementary.

Art, dried gourds and supplies of all kinds will be available for purchase as will refreshments.

The show will be open to the public Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults and children 12 and under are free.

For more information about workshops or the show, visit www.kygourdsociety.com or contact Barnett via e-mail at kgs@elkcreek.net or by phone at 502-477-8543.