The Marvin & Mary Johnson Gourd Museum
Located in Angier, NC
"I need some inspiration to get me started on my next gourd project." "Mom, What did they use gourds for in Africa?" "What I really need right now is somewhere to see a lot of different gourds in one place. The books are nice, but there's nothing like looking at the real thing, and it's still another 5 months, 2 weeks and 3 days 'til the gourd festival." "Hey Dad, I've got to do a project for school about the basic tools of daily life in colonial America. Do you know where I can see actual examples of..." "Did great-great-Grandma really have a doll made out of a gourd? What was it like?" "How many kinds of gourds are there anyway?" "I wish there was a place to see a variety of gourd things all in one place at any time, rather than just once a year at the gourd festival." "Somebody oughta start a museum!"
In 1965, after his wife, Mary, complained that gourds were crowding the people out of their house, Marvin Johnson opened his Gourd Museum. Located in a little, white, cinder-block building in the woods on their farm, in the Kennebec community just north of Angier, North Carolina. Marvin and Mary Johnson filled it with their collection of gourds from around the world and opened it to the public, free of charge.
Mr. Johnson was a high-school coach and remembered his own mother growing gourds for their family to use. He and his brothers were put to use moving them up under the tin roof to dry. In 1952 he started growing gourds himself. At first he grew the small, colorful, ornamental gourds the ladies liked to use for decoration, and for the kids to play with. As he learned more about gourds and their history, Marvin started growing hardshell gourds too and won many awards for them, including 18 of the 19 ribbons awarded in gourd categories at the 1969 North Carolina State Fair. Mary Johnson won her own share of awards with her gourd arrangements.
Gourd seeds were sent to and received from people in countries all over the world. Over the years more than 200 kinds of gourds were eventually grown, at one time or another, on the Johnson's property. Marvin grew everything from long-handled dipper gourds taller than he was to bushel basket gourds strong enough that he had his picture taken standing on top of one. When he decided he wanted to grow a real champion, Mr. Johnson would use dynamite to blast a hole in the ground, which he then filled with decayed sawdust and chicken manure.
Now Marvin and Mary Johnson's gourd museum contains gourds they collected from many continents and countries all around the world. Gourds for decoration, as well as practical workhorses, are represented. Dolls, carved figures, dippers, baskets, birdhouses and musical instruments are all there, and they're decorated with everything from paint to wood-burning, chip-carving and staining. Even shades for the ceiling light fixtures were made from gourds.
When his beloved wife, Mary, passed on, Marvin Johnson dedicated the museum to her memory. Eventually the property went to his nephew, Mark Johnson, who continued to care for and operate the museum. In 2003 Marvin himself died and left the contents of the museum to the Kennebec Baptist Church. The Johnson farm was eventually sold and the church got together with the town of Angier to make sure the public could continue to view this amazing collection of treasures from around the world.
The Marvin and Mary Johnson Gourd Museum is now housed in the Angier Municipal Building and is viewable 5 days a week, still free of charge. The Gourd Museum is located at 28 N. Raleigh Street in Angier, North Carolina 27501, in the same building as the public library. Go into the library Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and ask for entry to the Gourd Museum.
Photos of the new museum copyright Edmund W. Conen III, 2009.
"The Marvin & Mary Johnson Gourd Museum" copyright June 03, 2009 by Edmund W. Conen III