Gourd Art Origins

Gourd Pendants from Peru

Gourd Earrings from Peru

Traditional Mate Gourd Decorations

Artisans in the Andean region are experts at making Christmas ornaments from gourd. The appeal of these ornaments is their uniqueness and durability, besides their beauty. Making these ornaments is a process that starts by growing the plant. Andean countries use gourds because the hills, the abundant sun and the open space made the Andean region a perfect one for them to thrive, so we have them abundantly.

By the end of the year gourds are fully grown. Now it is time to dry them, clean them, and craft them. Gourd art is palpable in ornaments from calabacines that are bright and have a shell that is not hard like the ones used to make bird houses.

Top Bird Houses and Ornaments

What is Gourd art and how does it relate to Hispanic Culture? Let’s start by saying that it is simply using the hallow shell of a fruit and hand painting it, pyrographyng it or decorating it to produce some of the most beautiful birdhouses, ornaments and musical instruments.

The relationship to Hispanic culture comes from the use of gourd in Hispanic countries for many things. For example, in the cattle ranches I used to spend Christmas and holidays, I remember we served water in gourd mini bowls from the tinajera or big clay pottery container.

In ancient times, wealthy Incas used to drink the famous Chicha from pottery containers while the rest drank from decorated or carved gourd. Using gourd is nothing new to Latin Americans.

In Argentina people drink yerba-mate from gourd containers, and in Caribbean countries people use gourd as a resonating chamber on string and drum instruments. One example is the guiro in Cuban music, an instrument that produces a ratchet sound.

Besides its functionality in daily objects like bowls, serving containers, water holders, and so forth, gourd is a magnificent raw material to make bird houses and Christmas ornaments.

Gourd Bird Houses

Did you know native-Americans used gourd bird houses with square holes because they wanted to attract purple Martins? 2 kinds of these birds were also reproducing in Mexico.

One type, the subis subis, breeding in Eastern Mexico and North America and a second kind, the subis hesperia in western Mexico, the deserts of Arizona and Baja California.

What is interesting is that Purple Martins coming from Brazil depend on human housing supply when nesting East of the Rockies.

According to the Purple Martin Conservation Association, these birds are starting to depend on gourd birdhouses for nesting in the Pacific Northwest.

The passion for creating and buying gourd bird houses started with indigenous people in Mexico and Native Americans who used the first gourd birdhouses; this is one of the expressions of Native American gourd art.

Now you can use them to attract bluebirds, Chickadees, woodpeckers, and more.

How Andean Artisans Choose

Andean artisans start by selecting and cleaning the best shaped gourds because they dry inside with a dusty mix of seeds or pulp. The next step is to hand cut them if necessary and polish them for a smooth surface. Then they paint them, one at a time.

These Hispanic Christmas ornaments, specifically gourd ornaments, make pieces that never go out of style and reflect great usage or raw materials. These calabazas, calabaceras, ayotes or calabacinos are natural and many artisans use the traditional style of decorating them with pre-hispanic motifs like dots, stripes and swirls. When choosing a gourd ornament that truly represents Andean culture look for these characteristics:  

  • Inca designs that include geographic motifs made by hand.
  • Earthy tones that reflect tradition like reds, browns, and oranges.
  • Natural symmetry, characteristic of graphic designs in Andean indigenous cultures.
  • Stripes, swirls and dots that create a unique composition.
  • When looking to make a statement with gourd art and ornaments made of calabazas or ayotes:

    • Look for a combination of traditional craftsmanship and new decor by trying to find gourd ornaments crafted by Peruvian artisans and painted with extravagant colors. These are reflective of the ancient Inca method mixed with new decorative flair.
    • Display the ornaments in bowls instead of Christmas trees or in long glass containers that show the rich colors and catch the eye.

    Gourd Crafts and Making Musical Instruments

    Not everybody wants to just buy a beautiful product, many of us prefer to make it or simply learn a new craft.Researching, I found some of the best gourd craft books and I am sharing them here with you.

    Making gourd musical instruments may be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. In this book the author provides excellent images and step by step instructions to achieve the best results.

    The 144 pages has an added bonus, it also includes instructions of how to play them! Shakers, maracas, and rattles are some of them. A perfect book for creative minds interested in instruments from around the world.

    Gourd Craft shows techniques and methods you can easily follow. 300 jammed packed pages with useful information and step by step instructions.