Jeff Manes: Hebron woman does ‘gourd-geous’ work
October 12, 2012 10:08AM
Kathy Voyles, 52, of Hebron is pictured with some of the decorative gourds she creates. | Photo provided
AT A GLANCE
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Updated: November 15, 2012 6:03AM
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life.”
— Rachel Carson
Kathy Voyles lives a bullfrog’s leap from the Kankakee River, near Marti’s Place in Hebron.
Voyles, 52, has been married to Bill for 29 years; they have a Hebron address.
Our interview took place in Kathy’s backyard, which included a fantastic herb garden, no less than a dozen hummingbirds darting around inches from us, a greenhouse and plethora of gourds growing from trellises and pine trees.
Voyles has a business called Nature’s Bounty; she paints, burns and etches delightful images on gourds.
You’ve lived near the Kankakee River all your life.
“Yes, I grew up in a community in extreme southern Lake County known as Pons,” she said. “It’s just west of Schneider and U.S. 41. It’s old Kankakee River bed. This place also is original Kankakee River bed.”
Would you like to have seen the river before it was straightened and dredged?
“Oh, my gosh. All the islands, animals and the Indian tribes that lived around here.”
Tell me more about your childhood in Pons.
“I ran the woods like a wild child. It was wonderful back then. The bayous were full of playful muskrats and quacking ducks. There were actually swans back in there.
“And there were big fields of wild strawberries and a creek full of crayfish. We used to rake them out.”
Great live bass bait.
“My brothers were the fishermen.”
“I’m the eighth of nine kids. By the time my parents got to me, I was lucky if I was even looked at. I probably changed my own diapers. My oldest brother was born on Christmas morning right on the river.”
What is your maiden name?
Did your parents’ place in Pons ever get flooded?
“One time; I think it was in ’78. One of the dikes broke and we got about two feet of water in the house. We actually had to leave.
“I remember my conservation teacher at Lowell High School was real interested in the situation. He came over and we took him for a boat ride all through the subdivision.”
Did you like art in school?
“Oh, yeah. All the classes that could get me out of just sitting around. You know, the boring ones like typing and stuff — couldn’t handle it. I was either in art class, shop class or the greenhouse.
“We used to have to walk to Studer’s gas station to catch the bus. On those beautiful spring mornings, with the sun coming up and you could smell that grass growing, I’d purposely miss the bus. I’d rather help my mother hang laundry outside than sit in a classroom.”
Great garden. You have everything from cherry tomatoes to tropical hibiscus.
“Oh, gosh, I have all kinds of herbs out there like oregano, sage, tarragon, lemon thyme, fennel and my prize-winning chives that always win at the Lake County Fair. I shouldn’t say that; now I’ve probably jinxed myself.”
Everything is grown in raised beds. Are you an organic gardener?
“Oh, yeah. In the spring, I enjoy watching the goldfinches and indigo buntings eat the dandelion seeds. We also have a lot of flickers and woodpeckers here in the swamp.”
When I called last week, you were canning tomatoes.
“This afternoon, I’ll put up some salsa. I also do pickles.”
Do you grow all the gourds for your artwork?
“Not all of them.”
I really like the design on this large gourd container.
“That’s a Virginia creeper I burned into it; I just started coloring it in with dyes. I’ve been blessed with a vivid imagination. I’ll look at the shape of a gourd and say, ‘Now, this is a pepper.’ ”
Wow, a very large chili pepper painted red with a lid.
“I’ll probably keep that one for myself.”
When you have company and serve a bowl your homemade salsa, you can fill that gourd with tortilla chips.
“I do birdhouses, baskets, watermelons — you name it.”
What are your best sellers?
I always see you and Bill re-enacting as pioneers at the Aukiki River Festival near Kouts and Baum’s Bridge. What other festivals do you attend?
“We’re getting ready to attend the Eastern Rendezvous in Troy, Ohio. It’s a four-hour drive, if that. There’s like 2,000 camps; it’s huge. They have one weekend that is open to the public.”
How about the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon in Lafayette?
“We used to go there, but it has gotten too overcrowded. But we do a wonderful event in Mississinewa. It’s like ‘The Feast,’ but better. It’s near Marion and right on the river.”
How long have you been churning out your fine gourd art?
“Oh, gosh. I’ve always been interested in it; it’s right up my alley with gardening and nature and everything else. Thirty years ago, I was making birdhouses and various odds and ends out of gourds for myself and friends, but never on this scale.
“Every year, I learn something new; it’s a constant learning experience. I had a gourd that I would take to our re-enactments. I called it a goodie container; we’d put granola bars and stuff like that in it.
“People kept asking me, ‘Do have these gourd containers for sale?’ I got to thinking, ‘Maybe I could make a few bucks at this.’ ”
Anything else regarding gourds or gourd crafting?
“In October 2013, the Indiana Gourd Society will have its fall festival at the industrial building of the Lake County Fairgrounds. There will be competitions and lots of other stuff. It’s open to the public and has free admission. You can go there and buy things, look at things and ask questions.”
What a pleasant autumn chat I had with the ever-cheerful Kathy Voyles. I sipped sun tea while ruby-throated wonders hovered above glorious asters in full bloom.
You’d have to be out of your gourd not to enjoy that.