The Summit Artist and Gourder

The Summit Artist and Gourder

November 2, 2015

Arts and crafts have been part of Maryann Nance Birdsell’s life ever since childhood.  Many relatives in her immediate family are artists and she has examples of their works in her apartment.  Several of Maryann’s paintings hang in the Summit hallways.

After Maryann’s last child was off to college, she wanted to paint again and  decided to put together a small working area.  She found a sturdy table to use, set up her easel, and spread out her painting supplies.  Within a short time, a bank in Shreveport, Louisiana sponsored her in several one-man shows.  

Maryann’s sister lived in Lake Placid, Florida and she stayed with her sister to do annual art shows.  A great many of her pieces sold at these shows, and she gained wide publicity as an artist.  She was thrilled when a bank in Florida sponsored her each year for a one-man show.

When her husband passed away, a granddaughter, Heather, moved in with her.  They traveled together and enjoyed each other’s lives.  When Heather was in high school, they moved to Houston, Texas to be near Maryann’s son Larry and family.  In Houston, she was active with painting and took part in many art shows.

After Heather was out of college and married, Maryann moved to Hickory, North Carolina where she moved into a cottage on her daughter’s farm.  The cottage turned out to be a roomy house.   Maryann found it to be the perfect, peaceful home to pursue her painting and crafts.  She added a small building near her studio to be her workshop and storage area.  Her grandchildren always referred to her handmade gifts as, “Grandma’s Treasures,” so that became the name of her business.

Maryann’s crafting also included such as wicker ware decorating, silk flower arranging, and wood working.  Little did she know that the next time she visited relatives in Indiana, she would add a new craft to her repertoire.  She saw a display of painted gourds but felt they were ugly.  She knew she wanted to try working with them.  She found a person who would sell her three unpainted gourds.  As she left, her head was swimming with ideas to paint them.  She was so excited. 

She cleaned the gourds, and sanded them.  She drilled a hole in each one to make birdhouses.  She painted one that had a long tail to look like a cat.  The other two were painted with flowers and birds.  She had just finished painting them when a friend stopped by and bought them. Maryann discovered that painting gourds could turn into a profitable business.   Her most memorable sale came when a lady called who had come into town to buy furniture and wanted to see her gourds at the same time.  The lady had her two sisters with her. They had never seen such gourds before.  They ended up doing their Christmas shopping and spent $760. 

Maryann became a regular customer of farmers in the area who grew gourds.    Her grandchildren helped wash and scrape the ones that were not clean.  She continued to get orders for birdhouses and Santa Clauses of every occupation.  One special one was a small gourd which she painted to look like a frog.  She called them Carolina Croakers and they sold as souvenirs through a gift shop in Hilton Head.   In no time she was supplying gourds to 15 outlets in Indiana, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Maryland, and North Carolina

In September of 2002, she was contacted by Country Woman Magazine.  The editor was able to include her name and address.  Following that, Maryann received letters from every state except Hawaii and every province in Canada.  She received over 1500 letters and was still getting some after moving to the Summit in 2005.

Maryann continued her gourd work for another year but due to a medical eye condition, she decided to retire from handling gourds.  She donated the gourds and some of the tools and paints to the Hickory Museum of Art.  Now, at the Summit, she paints whenever she has the time.

By Hazel Harrison