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Gourds galore for Hoxie artist

10/5/2013

HOXIE -- Gourds are great for decoration until they begin to blacken and mold.

HOXIE -- Gourds are great for decoration until they begin to blacken and mold.

That's when people no longer want them, and many toss them out.

Well, not everyone.

For Kristin Johnson, those gourds are in the process of becoming a canvas for her art.

Johnson, Hoxie, creates a variety of art from gourds and praises God in each one she creates.

She creates vases, boxes, baskets, purses, ornaments, jewelry, decorative crosses and much more, all with Bible verses and inspirations on them.

"It's all about the Scripture for me, so if I'm excited about a verse, then I have to go put it on a gourd," she said. "That's what people really connect with. They might look at this and think pretty. But when they read the verse, they are like, 'Oh, I have to have that purse.' "

Johnson, who grew up in Kansas, first began creating her Praisin' Art pieces approximately 11 years ago, when she was teaching art in Michigan.

Johnson attended an art teachers' conference, where she listened to a woman who was teaching about different cultures. Johnson said the woman showed a little gourd basket from Nigeria.

Johnson said she thought about the possibility of creating and selling her own creations.

She not only sells some of her creations through Etsy, but also takes her art to the Whimmydiddle Arts and Crafts Fair in Scott City, Hillsboro Arts and Crafts Fair and gourd shows.

Her love for gourds escalated after her family moved to Hoxie five years ago. That's when she tried her hand at growing her own gourds.

"I never even wanted a garden before in my life, and then we moved here and I tried those giant gourds, and they were so much fun," she said. "I had no desire to garden in my life."

Johnson's gardens include Indonesian bottle gourds, Japanese Siphon gourds, Long Handled Dipper Gourds, Nest Egg gourds and more.

"Those that are hanging are so heavy. They really are like a pumpkin, even like a watermelon. So right now, it's full of moisture. But then they need a year to dry," Johnson said. "Even some little ones, I think, 'I'm not even going to look in that bag for a year,' and then I'll take them out and I'll wash them."

Johnson uses a Micro-lux Gourd Saw and a hack saw to cut her gourds. After cutting, she cleans out the pulp and seeds and sands it smooth.

But why gourds, why not canvas? It all comes to down to personal preference.

"I want a wall or a gourd," said Johnson, who also paints murals. "My gourds are not, well, they are painted but its all about word burning to me. So all the lines are burnt, and then all the colors. The painting, I love it. But my favorite part is the word burning. The burning is what I love."

Johnson doesn't draw any lines to follow while burning the designs into the gourd. She free-hands it all, around the gourds blemishes and cracks.

"To me, the blemishes and the cracks, you know, make it more interesting, more fun," Johnson said. "I tell my students, 'How can I erase a burnt line? No.' So if I make a mistake I have to figure out what I am going to do with that mistake, I'll just keep wood burning until I like it."

The wood burning is her favorite part of the process.

"I've changed my dining room into my art spot," she said. "I love to wood burn. I could wood burn forever. And I told myself that I had to stop wood burning and start painting; and my jewelry is ready and waiting. It's just all needing to be beaded."

After her wood burning is complete, Johnson will use mineral spirits and oil pastels to create the gentle colors used in her work. She then seals it with Krylon Workable Fixative.

"I love the color of the gourds," she said.

When Johnson isn't painting murals, working on gourds or subbing as an art teacher, she also speaks to workshops at churches and conferences.

"My whole process ... I show them the gross, awful gourds and how people want to throw them away. And we are just like that," she said. "We need to be washed clean, and the only way is through Jesus. He washes us clean, and he works on us. So what if we have a sore. He'll mend it."

It is through the scripture burnt into the gourd, she said, that touches a lot of people and gives hope during difficult times.

"It's life, this scripture is life to them, strength for our bones," Johnson said. "And hope. I guess it gives us hope."