Spring Issue 2023

Paul Buhrmester: The Burned Gourd

By Kayt Novak

For the last 14 years, Arkansas-native Paul Buhrmester has practiced the traditional art of pyrography, or “writing with fire.” Often conflated with “woodburning,” pyrography is the decoration of any surface with burn marks. Buhrmester prefers dried gourds.

Now a resident of Bowling Green, Kentucky, Buhrmester has always enjoyed working with his hands, preferring to make gifts for loved ones instead of buying them. Once he began pyrography, Buhrmester quickly realized the types of canvases were limitless. After seeing dried gourds for sale at a farmers market, Paul was hooked. Over the years, he has honed his craft and now teaches and sells his art around Kentucky.

As a result of his dedication to his art form, Buhrmester was added to Kentucky Crafted’s roster of renowned local artists in 2014. Paul has also won an Emerging Artist award through the Kentucky Arts Council and has been a featured artist in The Gourd Magazine, a publication of The American Gourd Society.

Paul works out of his home, using his garage as a studio. He uses the vines that grow around his house as bases or additions to his artwork. Many of the gourds he uses are grown nearby, and while he can buy them dried, he also dries them himself. Once he cleans and prepares the gourds, he then begins his artistic process. The patterns Buhrmester designs are drawn ahead of time, and quilt patterns are a favorite inspiration. However, he lets the designs come to him as he works. Mistakes can be fixed, and designs can be altered as the artwork finds its way around the gourd.

Buhrmester also collaborates with other artists and incorporates their work into his finished products. He has partnered with Kentucky artists like Michelle Weston, a glass blower from Berea, and polymer clay artists Diana Thomas and James Rich of BSpoken Designs. Paul has also led workshops in Berea, where he teaches the basics of pyrography to others.

Ultimately, Paul would love to teach this craft full-time. He enjoys working with others, collaborating and discovering new audiences for his art. One of his goals is to bridge the gap between folk and fine art, as he encourages galleries to feature more self-taught artists. As Paul’s journey as a folk artist brings him more inspiration and new projects, his path as a burned gourd artist can only continue to grow.

Kayt Novak is a second year graduate student in the WKU Folk Studies program. Originally from Nevada, Novak loves exploring new places and is excited about where folklore will take her. While her concentration is museum studies, Novak also loves public folklore, sustainable tourism, and supernatural folklore. Novak works as the graduate assistant for the Kentucky Folklife Program, where she has enjoyed working with folk artists all over Kentucky and learning about some of the traditions that make this region unique. When she's not studying, she spends time with her dog and watching the LA Lakers.