At Normandie Ridge Senior Living Community in York, you will often see decorative illuminated gourds at special events, thanks to a talented staff member. Not only is Chris Rhoades busy working as the Food Service Director at Normandie Ridge, but in his free time he spends many hours working on gourd sculptures. They look like they are made from ceramics or wood, but the artwork is created from an actual plant over the course of several months.
Rhoades explained how he got started working on this craft, “I ordered a decorative gourd for my fiancé online and when I took it out of the box, I thought it was nice, but I also thought this is something I could do. So when I gave it to her as a present, I also told her I could do better and she told me to prove it.”
Rhoades said he picked up the needed materials and started off slowly on five or six gourds and it’s evolved into a passion for him, “It started out with a few gourds and now I have hundreds of them in my house and we go out and do about one craft show a month now.”
The gourds are grown in fields and come in different shapes and sizes. Rhoades explained the most common one that he uses is called a cannonball gourd, which is very round. They also have Martin gourds which have more of a bell shape to them. “I buy my gourds from an Amish farmer, who grows them in a field and leaves them outside over the winter. The freezing and then rising of temperatures causes the gourds to harden over time. Then they harvest the gourds in the month of May.”
When harvested, the gourds typically have mold and mildew on them from being out all winter. Rhoades said the farmer brings them into his facility and cleans them off and then lets him pick the ones he wants to use for his artwork. Once they are carved and painted by Rhoades, LED lights can be used to illuminate the gourd and some are converted into lamps. There are a variety of themed gourds focusing on holidays, sports teams and nature.
Rhoades said, “People are surprised to find out that I do this. They know me as a food service director, but they don’t know this side of me. When we go to the shows, a lot of people have not seen stuff like that so they are very interested we get a lot of attention.” He continued, “It’s a great thing for me. I’m first shift and my fiancée works the second shift. So, when I go home at night it’s mostly the dog and myself. This is something for me to do when I’m alone. I can sit and work on a gourd for hours. This past weekend, I probably spent 14 hours on just one gourd.”
You can find Chris Rhoades artwork on Facebook under Just Gourdgeous Art. He also sells his artwork online AT Etsy.