Marshall man carves out new career with gourds
Marshall – — There are those days when the gourd sits there, inattentive, uncooperative and, frankly, a little disrespectful.
Those are the days when Doug Wolff has to reach deep down and find the inner gourd, the essence of the gourd, that will turn it from a not very attractive and patently inedible fruit to the work of art he’s convinced resides inside most gourds.
“I tell my wife, ‘They’ve got to talk to me a little bit,’ ” Wolff, of Marshall, said.
“It really is a process.”
And it’s a process Wolff has spent the better of a decade refining and improving.
Since his retirement as Director of Dam Site Design, a design consultant firm in Ceresco, west of Marshall, he has found art, both as an acrylic painter and, perhaps most noteworthy, as a gourd carver.
His artwork and his gourds are both on display, headlining this month’s Larson Exhibit at the EastEnd Studio and Gallery in Marshall.
It’s titled “The Wonders of Wolff” and he recently offered a demonstration of gourd carving to the curious and devoted.
“Gourd people are really something,” Wolff said with a laugh. “If you ever went to a gourd gathering, oh my God ...”
But the results are surprising.
“It’s extremely unique,” said gallery manager Pamela Rudd of Wolff’s work, which he has displayed at the gallery for several years. “Many times we feature new artists, but Doug has quite a large exhibit, and we thought it was time to display it.”
Wolff was intrigued by the idea of carving the distinctive fruit as he was considering retirement and was looking for something to occupy his time.
His secretary told him her dad had gourds ripe for carving, and he took off from there.
Since then, he has created hundreds of art pieces, some practical like lamps, and others decorative. But all get the Wolff treatment.
He grows most of the gourds himself, using part of a 10-acre plot at his daughter, Melinda’s home in rural Marshall.
It is a long, ponderous process to grow the gourds, which sometimes need a full year to reach their perfect ripeness. And even then, Wolff said, the shape, the texture, the look may not be what he wants.
“You have to wait until the first hard freeze and then go out and pick them,” he said. “I’ve been out there with snow falling to pick them.”
Next he’ll look at the gourd’s shape and decide just what makes it special, and he’ll sketch designs, sometimes taking several days to decide what he wants to do.
The good ones? Well, they talk to him, and when he finds what he’s looking for, it makes it all worthwhile.
“I have between 90 and 110 gourds I picked last year, but out of those 90 I might have 50 I want to spend time on,” he said.
On display at the gallery are gourds that look and feel nothing like the fruit they were originally. He has created lampshades from gourds, and candle holders and African masks, and one gourd that just didn’t fit any other category, he turned into a Viking drinking horn.
He said he’ll often take two gourds of middling quality and combine them into one piece, including a reproduction of a hot air balloon.
And all are intricately designed with images he created that include pieces of designed metal, leather paint and dyes. He burns the gourds to give them a distinctive look, and he’ll add whatever fits. Some gourds take him a week or so to complete, and more intricate ones take longer.
Calling it a hobby, Wolff sells his work only out of the gallery, and it can cost from $35 to more than $200.
“It’s a very interesting fruit,” he said