An artificially shaped gourd is produced by making a small and tender gourd on veins grow in a mould, so the gourd will have the same shape as the mould when it gets ripe. Artists then carve on the inner wall of the mould along with the decorative pattern. Records of gourd art first appeared in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) history books, tracing it back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The key to gourd art is to use the techniques of carving or painting to decorate gourd shells without altering the original shape, which can not only increase the aesthetic beauty of the apparatus but also transform it into a work of a high artistic value.
Gourd craftwork is made of creeping plants that only grow in warm, dry places. After the harvest, before the gourd is decorated, it is thoroughly washed and dried until it becomes smooth. To carve the gourd, cut off its top, remove its seeds, and clean and polish its insides.
The best artificially shaped gourds were produced when China was under emperors Kang Xi and Qian Long of the Qing Dynasty, mostly taking the shapes of bottles, bowls, basins and boxes. The rate of success was very low for production of artificially shaped gourds. It often occurred that out of several hundred young gourds in moulds, only one or two could be rated as artistically satisfactory after the moulds were removed. For this reason, many artificially shaped gourds that have survived to our time are priceless antiques. These fall into two categories – those purely for decoration and those in which singing insects are raised during winter.
Gourds are reputed as “nature’s pottery”, with surprisingly varied shapes and colors. When dried and cleaned, each one will have its own natural blemishes and scars, which serve to enhance their natural beauty. They are also surprising light and fragile. Dropping one from even a short height will usually crack it.