Pat Berkbigler |

I am a retired elementary school teacher, after thirty-one rewarding years in public education. When I tell people I was a teacher, they immediately respond with, “So you taught art?” The answer to that is “No”. Through all my years in education, none of them involved taking or teaching art classes.  

Even though I have never taken classes, I have always enjoyed arts and crafts and have dabbled in many through the years, including sewing, cake decorating, dried wreath making, and quilting to name a few. I even made pins from paint sticks adorned with seed bugs and sold them throughout my neighborhood when I was in eighth grade, earning enough money to pay for a plane ticket to visit cousins in New Hampshire. Yes, I’m older than dirt and tickets were cheap back in the day.  

So how did I get into gourd art, you ask? Well, after playing around with cupcake decorating, I was on a kick of making embroidered cookies. In looking for ideas on the internet, I came across a YouTube video by Miriam Joy about creating Christmas ornaments from coyote gourds and melted crayon. I sent in my order for supplies and off I went. So fun! I then decided I’d like to try the technique on larger gourds, but had no idea where to find them. After a bit of research, I found that there was a gourd festival in Springfield every year and gourd vendors would be present. Woo Hoo! I also discovered that they offered workshops teaching a variety of techniques for gourds. After my first carving class in 2017 with Gloria Crane, a gourd artist from California, the state, I was hooked.

As a nature lover, I find gourd art to be relaxing, rewarding, and intriguing. There always seems to be a new technique to be learned or created, keeping this art form fun and exciting. I especially love to carve. Sand waves, stippling, filigree, oh my! Pyrography (burning) has been interesting and challenging, but the most difficult part for me is painting. Having never taken a class, a lot of trial and error takes place before a project is finished. The most important thing I have learned is that there is always a way to fix a mistake. I’m not quite in line with Bob Ross, calling my mistakes ‘Happy Accidents,’ but thus far, I have never had to discard a project. 

The question I’m asked most often about my pieces is how long before they rot. They don’t! As with any fine artwork, with proper care, they last a lifetime. I truly enjoy introducing people to this art form just about as much as I enjoy creating the pieces.

Presently, Covid 19 has forced me to see the world around us in an entirely different light. Never before have I felt so out of control in what seems to be a whole new world. The one unchanging constant amidst so much chaos and unrest has been the beauty provided to us by Mother Nature, bringing with it a sense of tranquility, familiarity, and hope for the future. As stay at home orders have kept us from traveling and vacationing in person, we need to use our memories, imaginations, and dreams to take us places beyond our own four walls. I am in hopes that the nature-themed gourd art that I have been creating during these stressful times will help take people to a place of serenity and security. Flowers will bloom, butterflies will take flight, pebbles and shells will be washed to the shore, and we will continue to thrive.