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Gourds galore will return in April

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Endless possibilities: Artist Perry Riley demonstrated Native American artistry at last year's Indiana Gourd Show. Organizers say newcomers are amazed at the versatility of gourds, which can be painted, carved and burned for artistic effect. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)
Endless possibilities: Artist Perry Riley demonstrated Native American artistry at last year's Indiana Gourd Show. Organizers say newcomers are amazed at the versatility of gourds, which can be painted, carved and burned for artistic effect. (Tom Russo/Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — From musical instruments to bird feeders to water fountains and more, gourds transformed into works of art will descend on Greenfield in two weeks.

Moreover, the hundreds of handcrafted pumpkin-like plants will attract at least 1,000 visitors gaga for gourds.

This is the second year the Indiana Gourd Show, which returns to the Hancock County Fairgrounds April 13-15, has been held in Greenfield.

After weather-related problems with fairgrounds buildings last year, the Indiana Gourd Society questioned coming back. The group is still debating a return for next year, but local officials are working to fix problems with the sheep barn – specifically condensation dripping on vendors and products – so more shows can be held in cooler months at the facility.

Emily Wallace, a Pendleton resident and chair of this year’s show, said the gourd society liked the hospitality of Hancock

County and downtown restaurants but didn’t like the hassle of setting up temporary heaters to ward off moisture.

Wallace said she understands funding problems for fairgrounds, but the group will reassess where to hold the show next year.

“It depends on how well the show goes this year,” said Jim Ballard, a Greenfield resident who organized last year’s show. “The thing of it is, you’re not going to please everybody.”

Ballard said the 1,000 people that attended the show last year were pleased with the central location. Still, while he had originally anticipated 3,000 to 5,000 participants, attendance was low because it was at a new location.

Historically, the show has been held in Kokomo and South Bend.

Still, Ballard said the show in Greenfield received more walk-in traffic at the gate than other shows, meaning people from the community simply curious about gourds likely showed up.

This year’s event will have a similar feel as last year’s, including displays and contests for gourd art, vendors selling gourds as blank canvases, and classes on how to create gourd displays.

New this year will be more demonstrations from the vendors themselves, said Wallace.

Classes for beginners to the advanced will accept walk-in students, but Wallace suggests people sign up ahead of time.

Wallace said people from all over the country attend the show, much like people from Indiana attend gourd events in other states.

“It’s just a big, gourd family,” she said.

Dried gourds of all shapes and sizes can be painted, carved and burned for artistic effect. Wallace said when newcomers walk into a gourd show for the first time, they’re amazed.

Wallace had that experience herself five years ago when she attended a show in Kokomo.

“We went and I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness,” she said. “I bought a burner and I burned for six hours non-stop. I was hooked.”

Ballard enjoys making gourd vessels, which can hold floral arrangements.

“If they’ve never been to a gourd show – and of course there’s a lot of people that have no idea what a gourd is – I recommend you go and see what people are doing with (them),” Ballard said.

Last year, the gourd show became a community event. County resident Jean Howell worked with groups and downtown merchants to set up a small gourd show at the H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts, discounts at local businesses and more.

No such initiatives are in place this year.

Dave Scott, director of the Hancock County Visitors Bureau, said community events were not particularly successful last year.

“I think they have a very full schedule of things coming to the festival. I met with the gourd folks, and they didn’t say they really wanted anything like that.”

Still, the Hancock County Tourism Commission welcomed the show this year with a $2,650 grant, which helps pay for the rental of the fairgrounds.

Meanwhile, fairgrounds officials are hoping to keep the show in Hancock County for years to come, and that starts with fixes to the sheep barn.

Donna McDaniel, president of the Hancock County 4-H Agricultural Association, said an initial plan costing $40,000 would insulate and heat it. Still, the group is checking to see if fire protection items like sprinklers would also have to be added.

McDaniel said a heated barn would not only help the gourd show, but auctions and other events that could be held in the cooler months at the fairgrounds.

David Dellacca agrees. Dellacca, president of the Hancock County Tourism Commission, said the fairgrounds could be a good spot for future events in Hancock County all year long.

The commission has been open to the idea of funding renovations at the fairgrounds. The decision to do this has been a long time coming.

Some 10 years ago the Ag Association mounted a campaign for county funding of a new fairgrounds west of Greenfield that would specifically cater to large, tourist attracting events during non-county fair months.

Though county leaders were in agreement that it was needed, the timing couldn’t have been worse because it bumped up against plans for larger, more necessary projects like the new courthouse annex.

Then the recession happened and all thoughts of such a project were abandoned, at least until more prosperous times return.

Dellacca said he’s glad the gourd show is returning to Hancock County this year.

“The fairgrounds seems to be a really good fit for their needs, if we can fix problems with the individual location,” he said. “It’s not just about the gourd show, but about other events that could be coming into the space.”

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