By GWEN SISSON
Tom Keller said gourds are a way to turn a fall centerpiece into a conversation piece.
Keller suggests using a long handle dipper gourd, with four or five mini gourds, featured inside the handle.
Mini gourds can be used for a variety of fall craft and decorating projects, providing a lightweight element for centerpieces and wreaths.
Keller is one of the top sellers of gourds in North Mississippi. Located in West Point, Keller supplies a variety of clean gourds for decorating and gourd artists.
Some of the top gourd artists in the nation use Keller’s gourds for their artwork.
And while he has grown gourds personally, these days, he typically supplies the seeds and allows Country Pumpkins in Caledonia to grow about 13 varieties of gourds. Country Pumpkins and Tom Keller grows about 20,000 gourds per year.
Some of Keller’s personal favorites include the Bushel, Chinese Bottle, Indonesian Bottle, the Maranka gourd, as well as the Martin, Canteen and Kettle gourds.
Many are familiar with the Martin gourds used for bird houses, but the lightweight inedible fruit can be also used for ornament, instrument, utensil and vessels. Gourds come in all shapes and sizes and can be used in a variety of decorative ways.
In one part of Keller’s shop, unfinished gourds can be stored for years. On the other side, his collection of painted gourds shows the variety and inventiveness of gourd artists around the nation.
“I have shipped clean gourds to every state in the nation, and I have a finished gourd from every state,” Keller said.
He loves the artistry and creativity of gourd artists. Keller began this hobby 20 years ago after retiring from a career as an automobile salesman. He knew he needed something to do in his retirement, and as his appreciation for the artwork grew, he knew he could help make the farming aspect of it a little easier. After visiting a friend in Pennsylvania, he developed a power washing system that removes the dirt and mold, while also watering his wife’s garden in the spring and summer.
“When I first started this, all of the shows you would go to sold gourds straight from the field — all dirty and moldy,” Keller said. “I suggested to my wife we go to the Ohio festival with clean gourds. Needless to say, it has changed the industry. You will not find dirty gourds at any festival today.”
Keller and his wife are at the Mississippi Gourd Festival in Raleigh this weekend. He said it is the friendships he has made over the years that keeps him in this hobby.
“I love the people I do business with,” Keller said. “They have become some of my best friends. Every festival is like a big family reunion.”
“Tom Keller always brings us a wide variety of gourds to choose from at the festivals he attends, always cleaned and ready to go, with different sizes and reasonable prices,” said Susan Byra, president of the Mississippi Gourd Society, who is hosting the Mississippi festival this weekend. “He’s a consistent source for all gourd artists for their most basic material — gourds, gourds, and more gourds.”
For fall decorative purposes, Keller stocks a wide variety of gourds that can be used for multiple crafting projects.
For more information on the types and prices for locally grown gourds, contact Keller at (662) 494-3334. Call for an appointment to visit his location. More information can be found at http://www.tomkellergourds.com .