PENDLETON — Carolyn Rushton’s display of decorated gourds and other artwork at Gallery 119 in Pendleton is in many ways a return to her roots.
Rushton, a longtime Rush County resident, grew up in Pendleton, graduating from what was then Pendleton High School in 1957.
“I was invited by the (Pendleton Artists Society),” Rushton said, explaining how she came to be the gallery’s fall art show featured artist.
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It was a fellow PHS classmate and artist society member, Sherry Boram, who invited her, but Rushton’s south Madison County roots run deeper and spread wider than that.
She grew up on a farm in the area, played sports and in band at school, played the piano at then-Mt. Gilead Evangelical United Brethren Church and has maintained ties to the area.
Even her decorative gourds — which range in size from a couple of inches in height to about six feet, and are decorated in a variety of ways, including woodburning — have Pendleton roots.
In 1991, Rushton, who had long been an artist — including photography, painting, woodburning and leather work — was introduced to gourds as an art medium by the late Jim Story of Pendleton.
Rushton described Story, who died in 2005, as “the gourd man of Indiana.”
According to the American Gourd Society website, which established an award in Story’s name in 2009, Story “was known around the world as a gourd gardener, a gourd manipulator and molder of gourds. Jim was ever the experimenter, teacher, and legendary supporter of the American Gourd Society.”
Rushton said she quickly embraced gourds as a canvas for her artistic expression and applied wood burning, painting as well as leatherwork in the process.
Rushton has researched varieties of gourds. She grows, shapes and dries the gourds, and then creates works of art ranging from Western scenes woodburned onto the surface, to drums, to painted masks.
Rushton said she finds gourds to be better for woodburning than wood, and the variety of gourds to offer seemingly never-ending choices for her work.
A friend of Rushton’s, fellow Pendleton High School Class of 1957 graduate Jill Kelly, took a two-day road trip from North Port, Florida, to surprise her friend and see the show at Gallery 119.
“She’s fantastic,” Kelly said. “It’s unbelievable what she’s able to do with those things.”
She said she was most amazed by the miniature gourd work on objects such as necklace pendants.
“The little teeny intricate stuff amazed me,” she said. “I didn’t know that she had that talent.”