Julie-Anne Wallewein of Estevan has found a way to bring together her avid interest in gardening and art.
Wallewein is a certified gourd artist. She has been growing small gourds for ornamental purposes for many years, but it's only in the last few years that she started to grow much larger gourds, and adorn them with unique patterns.
"Reading on the internet, you can see how people dried them and decorated them," said Wallewein.
At first, she was decorating gourds that were small enough to fit in the palm of her hand. Now she has graduated to much larger items that boast elaborate designs.
"You purchase them in seeds," said Wallewein. "They are a plant that's sort of like a pumpkin plant. They are a vine that grows all over. They can take over your garden."
Wallewein plants the seeds in the spring, and by the fall, the gourds, which can be multi-coloured, are ready for harvest. After the first frost in the fall, the vines die. If the gourds are mature, they become harder. Wallewein places them in a storage area, and they spent the winter maturing.
If they aren't mature, they'll become mushy, moldy and rotten during the winter.
Once spring arrives, she'll immerse the gourds in hot, soapy water, and she scrubs them with a pot scraper to remove the outside layer.
"They become really dirty and moldy, and once you get that outside layer off, you get that nice, wood-green finish," said Wallewein.
The gourds are then ready to be transformed into works of art through painting, pencil-drawing, wood burning, shading and other techniques.
"My artwork is primarily leaves," said Wallewein. "I'm an avid gardener, and leaves just play a big part in that. A lot of my gourds have leaves of varying shapes, sizes and forms. Some are very intricate. Some are fairly abstract. I also do a lot with twisty, viney things that I can hand draw."
The larger the gourd, the larger the leaves, which enhances their appearance, she said.
Not only does she have some enormous gourds with some intricate designs, but she has been able to break open some gourds, which also adds to their uniqueness.
One of the larger gourds in her collection required as many as 40 or 50 hours of work, between cutting and cleaning the gourd, drawing the pattern and adding the details.
She tries to complete one gourd each month.
Wallewein said she doesn't grow all of the gourds that she has used, since the growing season in Saskatchewan can be short. Some gourds have been imported from California or Arizona.
The gourds in Saskatchewan also don't have the thick walls like those found in the southern U.S.
She said she was drawn to gourd art because it's a unique art form, and because she is able to transform something that starts out simple into something complex.
"I've gradually gotten more detailed, and I've found out that I can draw," said Wallewein. "I used to draw when I was in art classes in school, but I never thought of myself as an artist."
Gourds have brought her a lot of enjoyment, but they have also earned her recognition, and a little bit of money. She has been able to sell some of them. The Saskatchewan Craft Council has granted her juried artist status, which means that the craft council views her artwork as being of high quality.
"It gives me a little bit more confidence that I am doing a good job," said Wallewein.
She has also submitted the gourds for the Estevan Arts Council's adjudicated art show. Wallewein was one of two local artists chosen to apply to the Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Council to have the artwork in a Saskatchewan-wide touring exhibit. She is in the midst of writing her artist's statement, and then she'll have to wait to find out if her application is approved.
The gourds have also been in a couple exhibits with the Saskatchewan Craft Council, and some are for sale at the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina.
Wallewein says she is also intrigued by pottery, and she has been looking for ways to incorporate pottery into her gourd work.
"I thought 'I can do gourds at home, and maybe someday, when my boys are grown up, and there's more time, I can pursue some more pottery as well,'" Wallewein said. "I can foresee integrating pottery into some gourds as well, and just having pieces that have pottery and gourds fixed together. But that'll be some time in the future."