East Tennessee artist sees the beauty in dried gourds. She transforms them in her home studio is Sharps Chapel.

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(WBIR-Sharps Chapel) Her art is displayed at McGhee Tyson Airport as part of the "Arts in the Airport" exhibition. It's not a traditional oil painting or sculpture.

She transforms plain dried gourds into beautiful works of art. Emily Stroud and Brian Holt

Marty McConnaughey's latest artistic endeavor began with a gift from her brother in Michigan: gourds.

"I said sure I would take them, I never turn down anything," she said.

And so it began. Marty McConnaughey embarked on an artistic journey in 2012.

"I researched online to find out what to do with gourds and found the pine needle coiling technique," she said.

She found she has a knack for combining material from nature to create art. It all starts with a gourd.

"This would be a dried gourd," she demonstrated with a shake. "Hear the seeds bouncing around inside?"

Down in her garage workshop in Sharps Chapel she sands them again and again to smooth out the bumps yet preserve the characteristics that make each gourd unique.

"I have a new vacuum. It was a Christmas present. I don't ask for jewelry, I ask for tools," she said.

They are tools of transformation to carve and burn and shape.

"I've taken over the entire house and the garage and I am everywhere with my gourds," she explained.

When the prep work is done she moves in to her studio upstairs at her house where she transforms those gourds into beautiful works of art. It takes 40 to 45 hours.

The work is painstaking but gives her great pleasure.

"Because each gourd is different. And that's what I like about doing these projects is because they call give you something different to work with and they all turn out different," she said.

They are all different but many do feature pine coiling, the technique that drew her to gourd art.

"The coiling takes an extremely long time because everything is one one needle at a time," she said. "They will only go in once at at a time. I've tried it, trust me. I have to do one at a time."

She's been making gourd sculptures for only a couple of years and has already won several awards including Best of Show in the "Arts in The Airport" exhibition at McGhee Tyson. Her gourds are on display at the Union County Arts Coop in Maynardville. Collectors from all over can see them on her website.

She said, "I like being creative and seeing what I can do to bring out the best in the gourd."

And it brings out the best in her talent.

Air travelers can enjoy the "Arts in the Airport" exhibition through April 9th.

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