Gourd Season

Baltimore birds will soon find refuge in hand-made birdhouses this spring – but these small homes aren’t made of wood and paint. Painted, carved gourds, often used to decorate the Thanksgiving table, will be hung instead, thanks to a faculty-student collaboration in the visual arts department.

Through a grant from the Parks and People Foundation, Associate Professor of Visual Arts Tim Nohe and Alex Geiger ’12, visual arts, began “Gourd Season” at the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School (on East Lanvale Street). The project enhances the green infrastructure at the school by adding capacity for rain harvesting and composing.

The greening of the school began in the summer of 2009, when Nohe, Geiger and Lisa Moren, associate professor of visual arts, began setting up raised planting beds, compost piles, rain catchers (funded by the Chesapeake Bay Trust) and fruit tree plantings. The children planted canteen, snake, indo-bottle and long-handled dipper gourds for an October harvest.

“When the gourds dry in the spring, we will craft water dippers, bird houses, animals and instruments like drums and banjos,” said Nohe.

By growing gourds around the school, Nohe and Geiger are helping break up the “asphalt playground” that the school stands upon, converting parts of the mostly concrete space into more areas of “green play and learning.” The school now contains a bioswale (structure that removes silt and pollution from surface runoff water), edible gardens and other hands-on learning spaces. Prior to becoming a school, the building was briefly a set for the television drama, “The Wire,” and then a homeless shelter. Its renovation was completed in 2009.

“We are so pleased to make this green start for the school,” said Nohe.

In addition to funding from the Parks and People Foundation, Geiger is also supported by a UMBC Undergraduate Research Assistantship Award granted through the Office of the Provost. With this funding, the team was able to see Gourd Season through a full planting, harvest and crafting curriculum.

“We look forward to sharing our gourd art, crafts and musical instruments with the campus in the future,” said Geiger.