Gourdy the giant and the Gourd Goddess are big attractions at the Castle Valley Gourd Festival. [Photo courtesy of Castle Valley Gourd Festival]

Gourds are not edible. However, the plant has many uses, as people who attend the Oct. 18 Castle Valley Gourd Festival will find.

Artists from around Utah, as well as Colorado, will show and sell various gourd artworks; some of them — including bowls or other types of vessels — are utilitarian.

“It’s just gourds; nothing else is for sale,” said Bob Ridges, a 16-year gourd grower and gourd artist from Spanish Valley. “There will be hundreds of different shapes and sizes of hard shell gourds.”

Ridges often decorates the hard shells — which take about six months to dry — with various American Indian designs, such as petroglyphs and pictographs. His work can be found in a downtown Moab gallery as well as art shows around the West.

Gourds have been used worldwide for centuries.

“I’ve read they have found gourds from Egypt, in the pyramids,” Ridges said. “It’s the oldest cultivated plant in the universe. It’s useful for storage of grains. Africa still uses them as containers, drums and other musical instruments.”

Gourds are carved into rattles, masks, bird houses, jewelry, musical instruments, animal shapes and various other art pieces. Some are small enough to be earrings, while others may weigh 65 pounds, Ridges said. Other unusual works have included miniature dollhouses and villages.

The festival includes a parade, a community potluck lunch, a carved “Gourdy the giant” and a human gourd Goddess (or queen) who will make her own costume — incorporating gourds, of course. During the noon-hour parade the gourd Goddess tosses gourd seeds and other goodies for children.

There’s also a gourd gallery, where special gourd pieces will be for show, but not for sale. Unpainted “raw” gourds will be available for purchase as well.

Artist Cris Coffey founded the festival 14 years ago, along with Ridges and a small group of other artists. Coffey coordinated the event for 10 years, until turning over the organizing to her friend Yrma van der Steenstraeten.

“It’s a unique festival because it’s small, intimate, and kind of like out of another time,” Coffey said.

The festival’s first year generated 50 gourd pieces; last year’s event offered 400 various gourd artworks, Ridges said. Visitors have come from Salt Lake City and as far as Canada. Tourists from Germany and Japan have also stopped by, van der Steenstraeten said.

Van der Steenstraeten is primarily a painter who also creates gourd art for the festival. She says she tends toward making small ornaments for Christmas trees. Her designs are inspired by American Indian motifs, including kachinas and totem poles. Her gourd decorations also reflect steampunk influences.

“It’s definitely a family event,” said van der Steenstraeten, with lots of kids activities including face painting, a crafts booth led by the Castle Valley branch library, demonstrations, a puppet show, fortune-telling and a potluck lunch following the parade.

Attendees are encouraged to bring musical instruments for a jam session, as well as a side dish or dessert to share for the potluck lunch. Red Cliffs Lodge plans to donate chili stew for the event. Dogs are not allowed on festival grounds, except for service dogs. The event is free.

Castle Valley festival showcases all kinds of gourd art  

What: 13th Castle Valley Gourd Festival

When: Saturday, Oct. 18, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: Castle Valley Community Lot, Castle Valley

Information: www.gourdfestival.blogspot.com and Castle Valley Gourd Festival on Facebook. Or, call 435-259-0147; 435-259-9320

Cost: Free

“It’s a unique festival because it’s small, intimate, and kind of like out of another time.” — Cris Coffey, on the Castle Valley Gourd Festival