The Gourd Place
Where: 2319 Duncan Bridge Road, Sautee Nacoochee
More info: 706-865-4048 or gourdplace.com
While wandering through The Gourd Place on Thursday, Priscilla Wilson showed off some of her art.
Gourds that have been painted, carved and even pottery made from gourd molds fills the two buildings that make up the museum and store. Toy-sized boats made of gourds float outside in a nearby pond.
Wilson and her life partner, Janice Lymburner, have been in business peddling gourds for 40 years.
Wilson does most of the creative work, Lymburner said, while she manages the business and assists with art.
Saturday they held their annual open house where hand-crafted gourd ornaments are sold each year. The ornaments, limited in quantity, are only available for one day and usually sell out, Wilson said.
The theme for this year’s open house is “Gourding down in history,” a nod to the 40-year history of the business. Ornaments this year are red with hearts carved into them, and feature one of 40 quotes about love.
Wilson said she never thought about the business lasting 40 years when she started it.
“It’s the nature of youth, I think,” she said. “Who wants to look ahead 40 years?”
Now Wilson is 66 and Lymburner is 70. Lymburner isn’t shy about her desire to retire, but Wilson said she still enjoys the challenge of thinking up new things to do with gourds.
Their friends have reminded them that by following their passions, they’re already doing what many people want to do after they retire.
The pair stumbled across gourds in the 1970s when Lymburner wanted to make a planter out of one for her mother. She stopped at a roadside stand to buy a gourd and convinced Wilson to get one, too.
They were working as teachers nearly four decades ago when they both left the profession to pursue their business.
Wilson was first. She had been looking for a way to stop working as a teacher and after experimenting with gourd crafts decided to pursue it full time.
“After that, for the next year I was thinking about it and telling people I might quit teaching and start a gourd business,” she said.
The next year, Wilson did quit teaching. Lymburner helped support her, and a few years later, Lymburner also stopped teaching.
The Gourd Place didn’t have a physical location at first. The women sold their product at craft shows.
“It was 1976, that’s when crafts were becoming kind of a neat thing in American culture,” Wilson said. “I just thought this was a craft nobody was doing.”
She later learned that gourd art had been popular in Peru and India for many years. Instruments, such as the sitar, are made from gourds.
After several years of conducting craft shows, they set up shop and built a building on the property now occupied by Yonah Mountain Vineyards on Ga. Highway 255 in Cleveland. In 1991, they moved that building to its current Duncan Bridge Road location.
Wilson made her first gourd projects in 1976 and they’ve evolved since then. The first 15 years of the business the women grew their own gourds.
“The first things were really simple,” Wilson said.
She’d cut the tops off gourds and use them like a vase to hold dry items. “I just thought the gourds were beautiful without being decorated.”
The gourds didn’t sell well at craft shows so Wilson started decorating them to make them more appealing. She moved on to wood-burning images onto gourds and later using a high speed drill to carve them.
In 2000, the business grew again with the creation of Gourd Impressions pottery. The dishes are created by pouring liquid clay into a gourd mold. The clay is imprinted with the gourd’s shape and veins as it dries. The dishes are fired and glazed to make them microwave-, oven- and dishwasher-safe.
“It took a long time to make any money; in fact the pottery is what’s saved our business,” Lymburner said.
Now dedicated collectors purchase the pottery, which is what Wilson and Lymburner spend the most time creating.
To supplement the gourd art, the back building at The Gourd Place features art made by other artists. They work with a company that promotes artists from other countries, such as Peru. They’ve also used the internet to find out about other gourd artists — an artist from Pennsylvania supplies Santa gourdes and others decorated with holiday themes.