Listening to gourds

By Jonna Spelbring Priester

Once, a customer looking at one of Lynn Horine’s pine needle baskets was puzzled.

“Is that leather?”

Bedford resident Lynn Horine working on a pine-needle gourd basket. Photo by Jonna Spelbring Priester

Bedford resident Lynn Horine working on a pine-needle gourd basket. Photo by Jonna Spelbring Priester

No, Horine told the customer. It’s a gourd.

“What’s a gourd?”

She’s a country girl now, but Bedford resident Lynn Horine grew up in the city.

Because of her own experiences, she’s not surprised by the questions some of her customers ask.

“I got to thinking back — I spent the first 21 years of my life in a city. I thought milk came from cartons, not cows. The questions aren’t silly, they just don’t know.”

Horine moved to Trimble County from Long Beach, Calif., with husband George 43 years ago. She worked at Bedford Bank several years and then took a position with Wal-Mart, where she unloaded trucks for a living before working her way to assistant manager.

And then suddenly, in 2004, the effects of degenerative disc disease left Horine incapacitated. Overnight, she was bedridden and needed help with the most basic tasks. The disease required three spinal fusion back surgeries, which themselves resulted in a small stroke.

Life slowed down.

“God tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Smell the roses,’” Horine said. “But I ended up smelling the pine needles.”

Crafting is nothing new for Horine, who is also a quilter and painter. After reading the Foxfire books — a 1972 series that recounts Appalachian culture, lifestyle and skills — Horine fell in love with basket making, a skill she practiced for about 25 years prior to her back surgery.

It was a small pine needle cracker basket kit and a book by Judy Mofield Mallow, a fellow pine-needle basket weaver, which developed Horine’s skill. After seeing a pine-needle basket with a gourd base in a book and witnessing the same craft created by other artists, she went with it. “I don’t know,” she said, “it seems a gourd and the pine needles somehow go together.”


Horine generally uses Martin, bushel, Corsican and tobacco box gourds. Most of her gourds come from Arkansas, though she recently started buying from growers in the Kentucky Gourd Society.
She rarely, if ever, plans what one of her baskets will look like — she waits for the gourd to speak to her.

“I get an idea, and I’ll start,” and all at once, a shape, an edge, emerges from the husk of a gourd. “I like to do it, because there’s no pattern. There’s nobody to tell me if it’s right or wrong.”

With a medium sized gourd in her lap, Horine draws a curving, wavy line in pencil on the shell. Using an ice pick that belonged to her husband’s grandfather, she gently pokes a hole in the shell on that line.

That small hole is where George Horine will insert a small jigsaw to cut along the line. Then, he’ll scrape out the inside of the gourd (the Horines give the pulp to a friend who makes paper) and sand it down, painting the interior with a coat of black acrylic paint.

Lynn or George will poke small holes — either with the ice pick or a small drill — ¼-inch from the top edge of the gourd and ¼-inch apart.

Most of the gourds receive a brown Kiwi shoe polish finish — it enhances the natural leathery look of the gourds’ skins — and some receive a finger-tip-applied finish of gilder’s paste. This gives some of the more colorful baskets their hue.

Then the fun begins.

Using long leaf pine needles, and a thread that could be waxed polyester, waxed linen or artificial sinew, Horine begins the process of coiling small handfuls of southern long leaf pine needles.

These aren’t your average backyard pine needles. They are 12 to 22 inches long, and vary in shade depending on how old they are — older needles are darker.

Kentucky pine needles are simply too short, she said, making them difficult to use. “I tried one basket with pine needles from Kentucky, and … I went a quarter way around a tiny basket,” Horine said.

Before coiling them, Horine soaks the pine needles in warm water and removes the resin caps — the part that attaches the needle to the pine branch. Horine staggers the insertion of new pine needles, holding them in place with a small plumber’s fitting that also helps regulate the width of the coils.

She sews the coils together as she goes, using a variety of stitches. Again, there’s no plan, no definite number of coils. “The only thing I try to do is have odd numbers of rows, but that’s just me,” she said. “I just keep going until it looks right.”
Sometimes, looking right includes adding slices of black walnuts, beads, rocks or deer antler.

Once she has the coils the way she wants them, the pine needles taper off and she seals her work. Some weavers use beeswax, but Horine uses a hand-mixed shellac. Her favorite sealer, however, is water-based polyurethane. Once the seal is dry, she takes an old sweatshirt and gently rubs against the grain of the needles, breaking off the ends that sometimes stick out.


Generally, Horine makes about 25 baskets a month, and will work on smaller projects while she has big baskets in progress.

“I like to be working on what I call everyday pieces, the things people love and they buy,” she said. Those are her bread and butter. While even her everyday pieces are beautiful, the larger, more involved pieces are exquisite. One, an urn that took about eight months to make, earned Horine an Outstanding Craftsmanship Merit Award with the Louisville Artisan’s Guild.

Then there are the signature pieces. “If I sell them, they’re very high end,” she said.

She hasn’t failed to sell one yet.

At first, Horine didn’t think anyone would be interested in buying her baskets.

“George was my biggest fan … he kept saying, ‘Well, you’re going to have to sell them,’” Horine said. While she was doubtful, her husband was confident. “They will want to buy them,” he said.

One day, close friend Vicki Eldridge took Horine and her baskets to the Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea. Eldridge told Horine she might as well do something with her art.

“They were the first ones who handled my baskets,” she said. “They’ve handled them ever since.”

Horine is a member of the Louisville Artisan’s Guild, the Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts, the Trimble County Arts Council and the Madison Art Guild. She is a juried member of the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen, of which she is vice president, and Kentucky Crafted, the Market, a state-sponsored program of the Kentucky Arts Council, which enables Kentucky artists to reach multiple markets through wholesale and retail promotional opportunities.

Horine has never been so happy to do what she’s doing. “I’m so blessed,” she said. And for people to pay for her work? “It just blows me away.”

She is busy this fall preparing for shows and a large order for the Kentucky Artisan Center. Though she spends eight to 12 hours a day making the baskets, it’s not really work to Horine.

“People ask me how long it takes to make a basket,” she said. “I don’t really know. The only thing I can tell you is that getting ready takes too long.”

Pictures of Horine’s baskets, past and present, some for sale, some not, can be found at http://basketsfromtheheart.spaces.live.com/

About the writer

Jonna Spelbring Priester is the general manager and editor of the Henry County Local in Eminence, Ky. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communications with an emphasis in journalism from the University of Evansville (Ind.) and has worked for newspapers in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky. She and her husband live in Campbellsburg, Ky.


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