Some days Cathy Wells thinks she's going out of her gourd. Especially when she's surrounded by all the unpainted gourds in her workroom in her Saylorsburg home.
"I wait until they 'speak' to me. They tell me what they want to be," explains the avid gourder.
Some want to be birdhouses. Others want to be bowls. Then there are some that want to be vases, lamps and even purses.
Gourds became Cathy's passion when she could no longer work in her garden.
An RN, she was lifting a patient when she injured her back. After two surgeries with rods, pins and screws keeping her together, her 14-year nursing career was over. It also ended her passion for gardening. She missed being outdoors, working in the soil, getting her hands dirty.
Seven years ago, her husband, Mark, took her to the Philadelphia flower show. She was entranced with a gourd birdhouse.
"I would have liked to buy it but didn't want to spend the money," she says.
Instead, the next day, she went online and did some gourd research.
She ended up buying a box of gourds - a variety sampler.
"I always told my kids, 'Dirty hands are happy hands.' My box of gourds were uncleaned, filthy and moldy. I started right in scrubbing them. I was so happy my hands were dirty again," she says.
After the gourds were cleaned, Cathy decided she wanted to paint them.
"I didn't want them to look like someone else's. So I didn't look for patterns. I practiced making my own designs on paper."
The flowers she painted on her gourds became the flower garden she could no longer work in.
As she became more confident, she began to branch out to bowls with Native American designs, luminaries, plates and instruments, like drums with a sinew top made of goat skin, and a thumb piano.
She also makes gourds into yerba mate cups. Yerba mate is a beverage made from the leaves and stems of a powerful rain forest tree, native to the subtropical rain forests of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, discovered centuries ago. A special ceremony has been developed over the centuries for drinking yerba mate. Custom has it that a hollowed out gourd is filled with the leaves of the yerba mate tree. The gourd is then filled with hot water repeatedly and shared in a ceremony. These cups are passed down from generation to generation.
After scraping the inside of the gourds, Cathy cures her yerba mate cups with sugar and water solutions and says they're great to drink tea or coffee from, if you don't have yerba mate.
Cathy uses acrylic paints and sometimes leather dye. Her pieces often take several layers of paint. She uses a blow dryer to "set" the color.
"If you don't and the paint runs, you want to commit Hari-Kari," she says with humor.
She finishes each one with indoor/outdoor shellac and gourd wax.
"I moved away from cutesy to more artsy. I want a design to be mine, even if it is ugly. And my designs are un-produceable. Which can be a joy or a curse. I can't reproduce them either," she chuckles.
Cathy also loves basket weaving and makes some stunning gourd bowls with intricate weavings using sea grass or reeds.
A gourd birdhouse can take her about three hours to paint and finish. A gourd bowl can take anywhere from 24-25 hours.
When her pile of finished gourds began accumulating and she wanted to find a way to make room for new ones, she started going to craft shows. Her first one was at Pleasant Valley High School and was well-received. She does about two shows a year.
A friend of hers has a bird store in West Virginia and she sends him her gourd birdhouses to be sold.
Cathy buys her organic grown gourds from Wellborn Gourd Farm in California and Meadowbrook Farm in Carlisle, Pa.
Her passion for gourds has grown over the years.
"I go into my workroom and get lost. I get so involved in every piece. And while I work, I pray."
It is her faith that she credits for getting her through each day. Since her back injury and surgeries, she has suffered from depression, has pain and restless leg syndrome. But she combats it by exercising daily, staying busy and active, and believes she is getting better every day. It is her positive attitude, her energy and bubbling personality that draws people to her.
She gives so much credit to Mark, her husband of 27 years. They met the first day of class at Trenton State College and have been together ever since. She graduated June 1 with a B.S. in nursing and they were married June 9.
"We've been through a lot together. We're best friends. That's very important. We raised our two sons, Matthew, 22, and Adam, 20. We have a sustaining faith. Our experience and our life is about stewardship. Not of money. Because of my trauma, it has been my mission to see how I can take it and help others because He has blessed me hugely and even in the bad stuff, there is good."
What helps keep her faith going besides her family is her church and church family at Effort United Methodist Church. She is a member of the choir, Worship Design Team and a Communion Stewart.
Recently her pastor, the Rev. Robin Fisher, asked Cathy if she could make a communion set of a chalice and bread plate out of gourds. She was very flattered and honored to be asked.
All her lines on the gourds are pyro-engraved (burned in.) She incorporated the Christian symbol of a cross that encircles around the chalice with a red painted heart which is actually an Ichthys, the Christian symbol of the fish. Gold-leafing enhances the designs.
Each piece has scripture she pyro-engraved (burned) in them.
The scripture on the plate is from Matthew 26: 26: "Take and eat; this is my body."
On the chalice, it is inscribed, "Matthew 26:27 -28." The verses are: "Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
Cathy is also a volunteer at Compassionate Care Hospice and enjoys writing poetry and devotions for her church's monthly newsletter.
But show this gal a gourd and her mind begins searching for what she can create out of it.
Her business name is "Out of My Gourd" because as she says, "I love them so much they make me crazy!"