The Weekly Newspaper serving the citizens of Morenci, Mich., Fayette, Ohio, and surrounding areas.

  • Snow.2
    FIRST SNOW—Heavy, wet flakes piled deep on tree branches—and windshields—as the area received its first significant snowfall of the season. “Usually it begins with a dusting or two,” said George Isobar, Morenci’s observer for the National Weather Service, “but this time it came with a vengeance.” By the end of the day Saturday, a little over four inches of snow was on the ground. Now comes the thaw with temperatures in the 40s and 50s for three days.
  • Front.sculpt
    SKEWERS, gumdrops, and marshmallows are all that’s needed to create interesting shapes and designs for Layla McDowell Saturday at Stair District Library’s “Sculptamania!” Open House. The program featuring design games and materials is one part of a larger project funded by a $7,500 Curiosity Creates grant from Disney and the American Library Association. Additional photos are on page 7.
    Morenci marching band members took to the field Friday night dressed for Halloween during the Bulldog’s first playoff game. Morenci fans had a bit of a scare until the fourth quarter when the Bulldogs scored 30 points to leave Lenawee Christian School behind. Whiteford visits Morenci this Friday for the district championship game. From the left is Clayton Borton, Morgan Merillat and James O’Brien.
    DNA PUZZLE—Mitchell Storrs and Wyatt Mohr tackle a puzzle representing the structure of DNA. There’s only one correct way for all the pieces to fit. It’s one of the new materials that can be used in both biology and chemistry classes, said teacher Loretta Cox.
  • Front.tar.wide
    A TRAFFIC control worker stands in the middle of Morenci’s Main Street Tuesday morning, waiting for the next flow of vehicles to be let through from the west. The dusty gravel surface was sealed with a layer of tar, leaving only the application of paint for new striping. The project was completed in conjunction with county road commission work west of Morenci.
  • Front.pull
    JUNIORS Jazmin Smith and Trevor Corkle struggle against a team from the sophomore class Friday during the annual tug of war at the Homecoming Games pep rally. Even the seniors struggled against the sophomores who won the competition. At the main course of the day, the Bulldog football team struggled against Whiteford in a homecoming loss.
    YOUNG soccer players surived a chilly morning Saturday in Morenci’s PTO league. From the left is Emma Cordts, Wayne Corser, Carter and Levi Seitz, Briella York and Drew Joughin. Two more weeks of soccer remain for this season.
  • Front.ropes
    BOWEN BAUMGARTNER of Morenci makes his way across a rope bridge constructed by the Tecumseh Boy Scout troop Sunday at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The bridge was one of many challenges, displays and games set up for the annual Youth Jamboree by the Michigan DNR. Additional photos on are the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.homecoming Court
    One of four senior candidates will be crowned the fall homecoming queen during half-time of this week’s Morenci-Whiteford football game. In the back row (left to right) is exchange student Kinga Vidor (her escort will be Caylob Alcock), seniors Alli VanBrandt (escorted by Sam Cool), Larissa Elliott (escorted by Clayton Borton), Samantha Wright (escorted by JJ Elarton) and Justis McCowan (escorted by Austin Gilson), and exchange student Rebecca Rosenberger (escorted by Garrett Smith). Front row freshman court member Allie Kaiser (escorted by Anthony Thomas), sophomore Marlee Blaker (escorted by Nate Elarton) and junior Cheyenne Stone (escorted by Dominick Sell).
  • Front.park.lights
    GETTING READY—Jerad Gleckler pounds nails to secure a string of holiday lights on the side of the Wakefield Park concession stand while other members of the Volunteer Club and others hold them in place. The volunteers showed up Sunday afternoon to string lights at the park. The decorating project will continue this Sunday. Denise Walsh is in charge of the effort this year.
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Marilyn Royal: Finding beauty in gourds 2008.11.26

Written by David Green.


Every gourd holds a secret for Marilyn Royal’s eyes.

She can judge the value of a gourd by its weight. She can easily see the curve of the stem and determine the strength of its connection to the body of the fruit.marilyn.royal.jpg

The flatness of the bottom—it’s ability to stand erect—is simple to evaluate, a quick once-over locates any unique indentations and markings from its contact with the soil.

But there’s still a secret to discover, and it’s all about mold and decay.

Mold grows on the outer shell of a gourd and as it grows it forms a pattern.  In addition, the waxy, outer cuticle breaks down as a gourd dries and reveals the shell underneath. It’s what makes every gourd unique. It’s what makes some gourds resemble wood and others deerskin. It’s the pattern of the mold that makes some gourds become a beautiful work of art.

When Marilyn buys a gourd, she gets a vague idea of what it might become, but it’s not until it’s cleaned and sealed that the true pattern emerges.

“You wouldn’t think that an ugly, moldy gourd would produce such a beautiful design,” the West Unity resident said, “but the mold is really what makes the beauty.”

That moment of discovery when the hidden beauty is unveiled—that’s a golden time for a gourd artist.

Marilyn had already been involved in numerous artistic endeavors—charcoal drawing, oils and glass etching—when she first saw a decorated gourd at a craft show.

She gave it a try herself and fell in love with the process. Several crafters in the area paint gourds on a simple level, but as Marilyn puts it, “I’m beyond the bird house.”

She isn’t bragging—she has a fistful of prize ribbons to prove her skills. She’s simply making a statement of where she is and where she’s going with this art form.

She’s also quick to point out how limited her skills are.

“It boggles the mind to see what people make from gourds,” she said. “Mine are simple compared to those. There’s still a lot to learn.”

She’s seen gourds imbedded with turquoise selling for $1,500. She saw a gourd draw a bid of $20,000 at an auction—a gourd project that took a year to make.

Marilyn is growing both in skills and in equipment.

“I finally got myself the high-end wood-burning tool,” she said.

It comes with a variety of tips and is capable of burning ultra thin lines onto a gourd’s surface.

There’s also the discovery of “new” tools—perhaps something as simple as an emery board—to fill a particular need.

The goal, of course, is to imagine something new and to take the challenge to see if it can be done.

“I don’t want to go to a show and have something that everyone else has.”

The cold days of winter are a good time to dream of something new. Marilyn’s cutting, burning and drilling are generally done outdoors due to mold, dust and odors.

In the winter she draws designs and waits for the work to begin.

Each gourd is a challenge, she says, and working each one brings that time of discovery to see what’s revealed.

Buying gourds

Bushel gourds. Basketball gourds. Cannonball gourds. Egg gourds. Bottle gourds. Apple gourds. Long-handled dippers. Kettle dippers. Penguins.pumpkin.gourd.jpg

The list of gourd varieties goes on and on. One company provides customers with a list of 141—each with a small drawing—to help them make the right selection.

“I buy all of my gourds,” Marilyn Royal said. “We have too short of a growing season to get thick enough shells.”

When gourds are finished growing, they’re left to dry. Months later, when the seeds can be heard shaking inside, the gourd is ready to be worked.

Marilyn’s chief supplier is the Welburn Gourd Farm in California. Cleaned gourds sell for as little as $2.07 for the smallest to more than $30 for those with a 15-inch diameter. She’s seen a good bushel gourd sell for as much as $60.

Marilyn orders gourds by the box—a large assortment and the most economical option—and she also picks up some from favorite growers that she sees at the annual Ohio or Indiana Gourd Society shows.

She also buys an array of embellishments at shows, although some can be found as close as her own compost pile. She once found a root with a most interesting twist that worked perfectly for a handle. That find sent her to the village compost area where she found a few others.

She’s been fortunate to locate old jewelry at flea markets for a good price and use pieces in her work.

She even used gourd seeds for decoration.

Some gourds have a natural, pearly luster remaining on the inside. Marilyn sometimes covers the inside with home-made paper.

Gourd artists have a motto: Break one, make jewelry. Marilyn has a variety of brooches, pendants and necklaces from small pieces of gourd.

Wood-burning, chip carving, boring,  cutting, dyeing—the possibilities are endless, and Marilyn is always seeing something new and amazing when she attends shows.

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