Gourd Lore

A collector’s exhibit of the enduring plants that double as art objects is on display.

If your familiarity with gourds ends with zucchini, you’re missing out on beautiful craftwork and eons of human history.

For 40 years, Raymond Konan of Waterford Lakes has been collecting the colorful vessels, and about 200 items from his extensive collection are on display at the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park through Aug. 9. The exhibit, called “Shapely Vessels,” is a natural fit for the museum, says Curator Rachel Frisby.

“I’m always interested in finding collections locally that have not been exhibited,” she says, “and when I saw Mr. Konan’s collection, I knew there was something very special about it. The Polasek is all about highlighting sculpture, and gourds are infinitely sculptural.”

Gourds’ anthropological significance is featured in the exhibit as well.

Konan, whose legal career has involved international travel for the government, discovered his passion for gourds in Nigeria in the 1970s. He was fascinated by the intricately decorated calabash vessels carried atop the heads of women in the marketplace. The gourds were filled with milk.

“They’d sit down and sell the milk a cupful at a time,” he recalls. At night, the gourds became grocery carts as the women walked back to their village
with food supplies.

Friends who taught at a nearby university told Konan that the decoration and use of gourds “was a dying art form” and that they were being replaced by tin pans and plastic containers.

”Later I realized that for 99 percent
of our ancestors’ life on Earth, all they had was gourds,” he says. “They were
our staple container.”

Throughout his travels, Konan has amassed a collection of about 600 gourds from Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia and Senegal; Peru; Mexico; Argentina; Costa Rica; and Japan.

“Forget everything you’ve learned about culture, and study gourds,” Konan says. “You’ll have 99 percent of all human history there.” +

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