Kristen Treuting loves gardening, which is one reason she finds gourds an attractive canvas. For a while, she grew the gourds she used for her art and found planting, harvesting and transforming each one gratifying.

Now she gets her supply from California. "I don't grow them anymore because Minnesota gourds kinda suck," says Treuting, laughing. "They are too thin. We just don't have a long enough season."

That has not deterred her from using them as a medium and a muse. Treuting creates figurative sculptures and vessels from these hard-shelled ornamental fruits, which are relatives of squash and pumpkins. "Usually the shape will tell me what to do with it," says Treuting. Most of the themes in her pieces are inspired by, or relate to, nature: leaves, water, animals and natural patterns.

Treuting mostly works in her garage (but uses the basement in winter) and displays her art at the north Minneapolis studio she shares with her photographer husband. When she grew her own gourds, she would let them dry over the winter, waiting for them to turn into the hard, wood-like substance that serves as her sculpting medium. Now they arrive in the mail, dried and ready for carving and painting.

Recently she's begun to incorporate different materials into her creations.

"Felting is of interest to me," she says. "I carve away a section of gourd and put a felted piece in the carved out area."

Many of Treuting's pieces are meant to be admired as art. Some are functional. "I do make containers with lids," she says, though she cautions people against using them to store liquids. "An acupuncturist bought a gourd with a lid and put cotton balls in it."

Customers typically find Treuting at art fairs, but with the ongoing pandemic, she is selling pieces through her website — though not quite all of them. Her most recent work addresses racial injustice and COVID-19. "They're not for sale yet," she says. "Sometimes I can't let them go right away."