Breaking News Bar
updated: 3/28/2014 9:39 AM

Elgin artist, 104, displays gourds at museum

hello
Success - Article sent! close
  • Virginia Umberger, 104, of Elgin, has a collection of gourd creations on display at the Elgin Public Museum. An Elgin resident for the past 64 years, she and her late husband grew gourds and decorated them, and collected gourds from around the world.

       Virginia Umberger, 104, of Elgin, has a collection of gourd creations on display at the Elgin Public Museum. An Elgin resident for the past 64 years, she and her late husband grew gourds and decorated them, and collected gourds from around the world.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Gourds are really surprising plants, said Virginia Umberger, 104, of Elgin, whose gourd collection and creations is on display at the Elgin Public Museum.

       Gourds are really surprising plants, said Virginia Umberger, 104, of Elgin, whose gourd collection and creations is on display at the Elgin Public Museum.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Virginia Umberger, 104, of Elgin, has part of her collection and gourd creations on display at the Elgin Public Museum. Her advice to young people is to find their passion in life.

       Virginia Umberger, 104, of Elgin, has part of her collection and gourd creations on display at the Elgin Public Museum. Her advice to young people is to find their passion in life.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Virginia Umberger has lived in Elgin for 64 years, much of it dedicated to growing, decorating and collecting gourds. Part of her collection is on display at the Elgin Public Museum.

      Virginia Umberger has lived in Elgin for 64 years, much of it dedicated to growing, decorating and collecting gourds. Part of her collection is on display at the Elgin Public Museum.

  • Virginia Umberger has part of her collection and gourd creations on display at the Elgin Public Museum. Here is a gourd turned into a music box with the crank at the top.

       Virginia Umberger has part of her collection and gourd creations on display at the Elgin Public Museum. Here is a gourd turned into a music box with the crank at the top.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Virginia Umberger of Elgin is shown here with her late husband. Alton, and their gourd creations.

      Virginia Umberger of Elgin is shown here with her late husband. Alton, and their gourd creations.
    courtesy of the Elgin Public Museum

  • An informational display shows Virginia Umberger of Elgin and her late husband, Alton, with one of their giant gourd wreaths. Virginia, now 104, has part of her collection and gourd creations on display at the Elgin Public Museum.

       An informational display shows Virginia Umberger of Elgin and her late husband, Alton, with one of their giant gourd wreaths. Virginia, now 104, has part of her collection and gourd creations on display at the Elgin Public Museum.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • A small gourd wreath by Virginia Umberger is on display at the Elgin Public Museum.

       A small gourd wreath by Virginia Umberger is on display at the Elgin Public Museum.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 
 

Virginia Umberger spent a great deal of her 104 years growing and collecting gourds, plants that she said never ceased to surprise her.

The Elgin Public Museum is hosting the traveling exhibit, "Gourds: The Creations and Collections of Virginia Umberger," featuring a reception at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Order Reprint Print Article
 
Interested in reusing this article?
Custom reprints are a powerful and strategic way to share your article with customers, employees and prospects.
The YGS Group provides digital and printed reprint services for Daily Herald. Complete the form to the right and a reprint consultant will contact you to discuss how you can reuse this article.
Need more information about reprints? Visit our Reprints Section for more details.

Contact information ( * required )

Success - request sent close

Gourds come in all shapes and sizes and can be manipulated to grow into specific shapes, she said.

"They are so variable and fascinating," the Elgin resident said. "All of the challenges to look into what to do with each of them. ... They were just a pleasure to me."

She and her husband Alton, who died in 1978, moved to Elgin in 1950 and grew gourds across the street from their home near Trout Park, in a spot that offered adequate sunlight, said their daughter, Nancy Rascher.

The Umbergers turned gourds into art, shaping them, for example, into different animals and wreaths. They also collected gourds from travels around the world, and took in gourds that friends bought for them.

Umberger remembers being especially surprised at the gourds she found in Mexico.

"The climate was right for growing. Some of the people that worked on the side of the road in Mexico, they had gourds as containers for their water."

The museum's display includes about 100 gourds, about a third of them grown and created by Umberger, museum coordinator Mike McGrath said.

Their shapes range from the whimsical, like frogs, whales and Peter Cottontail, to the utilitarian, like masks, spoons and rattles, he said. A couple are four or five feet long, he said.

Rascher approached the museum in late fall hoping to donate her mother's collection, which includes at least another 150 gourds stored at home.

"I was thinking she had a dozen gourds or something, then myself and (museum director) Peggy Stromberg went over to her house and it's like, 'Oh my God, this is incredible,' " McGrath said.

Umberger said she inherited her passion from gardening from her father, who moved the family from Wilmette to Indiana so he could start his own orchard.

Over time, she became known in the Chicago area as an authority on gourds, giving talks to gardening clubs and being featured in displays at the Chicago Botanic Garden and at McCormick Place in Chicago.

Umberger's dedication is truly inspirational, McGrath said.

"She's just an incredible woman that had this passion and just took it," McGrath said.

If there's any secret to living a long life, it's to find your passion, said Umberger, who turns 105 May 28.

"I would advise a young person to find their area of interest to then pursue that interest, and give it all the time and attention that they can," she said.

The Elgin Public Museum is at Lords Park at 225 Grand Blvd., Elgin. For information call (847) 741-5566 or visit elginpublicmuseum.org.

Any museum interested in displaying Umberger's gourd collection can email Rascher at nvrascher@aol.com.

Share this page
Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.
    help here