ELEVEN MILE CORNER — A celebration of the humble, hard-shelled gourd and all its possibilities will take place Feb. 7, 8 and 9 with the 17th annual Running of the Gourds festival at the Pinal Fairgrounds and Event Center.

The festival attracts an estimated 12,000 people each year, including artists, crafters, vendors and shoppers as well as people interested in learning more about the variety of fine art and craft items that can be created from a gourd.

Visitors to the festival will find gourds in all shapes and sizes that have been transformed into bowls, decorations, paintings, ornaments, lamps and other works of art.

A world-class gourd art show that’s judged by the Arizona Gourd Society is a featured part of the festival.

Among the 47 classes offered this year are chances for gourd artists to learn various painting, decorating and carving techniques that transform the simple yet shapely gourd into a work of art.

A gourd is a typically large fruit with a hard shell-like exterior. While many gourds are edible, the ones featured at the festival are grown for decorative purposes and are widely prized for their appeal to artists. The hard surface of the decorative gourds may be carved, painted, sanded, dyed and transformed into various works of art.

The gourd festival is a family-run event started by the Wuertz family 17 years ago to educate the public about gourds and to serve the flourishing gourd artistry market. It’s one of the largest gourd festivals in the country, attracting hundreds of artists and vendors every year.

A lot of work leads up to the event every year, including loading up semi-trucks and hauling thousands of gourds from the Wuertz farm to the nearby Pinal Fairgrounds and Event Center and setting up gourd-themed displays.

The festival includes live, non-stop music along with a farmers market, games and food as well as plenty of gourd-theme puns including a “Flash Gourden” character and a “kindergourden” for young people to learn about gourds.

One of the more popular events at the festival is the “mini-gourdster” racing competition in which tiny cars are made from gourds, then sent racing down a 30-foot ramp.

The gourd festival hours are:

  • 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday
  • 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday

Admission is $10 at the gate. The Pinal Fairgrounds and Event Center is at 512 S. Eleven Mile Corner Road.

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Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.

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