Our Story

Established in 2018, Drinking Gourd Gallery is a woman-led contemporary art gallery focused on developing and supporting early to mid-career artists. The gallery name is derived from the "Follow the Drinking Gourd" folk song and is meant to honor the legacy of those who were once enslaved. Those for whom there were no galleries. Looking back and ahead, the gallery is dedicated to artistic freedom and committed to showcasing diverse voices and perspectives. Known for its eclectic, ever-changing collection, Drinking Gourd Gallery offers a relaxed virtual space for visitors to discover and shop for some of the finest contemporary art in the Triangle area. The gallery is also proud to present exhibitions, book and film discussions, artist talks, lectures, classes and performances to inspire and engage.  


Drinking Gourd Gallery founder and owner Carol Torian derived the gallery name from the American folk song "Follow the Drinking Gourd," which was published 63 years after the end of the Civil War in 1928. Literally, a drinking gourd is a hollowed-out gourd that has traditionally been used as a water dipper. In the context of the "Follow the Drinking Gourd" song, the drinking gourd references the Big Dipper asterism. In the absence of maps and compasses, the Big Dipper’s outline in the night sky helped slaves fleeing bondage to find The North Star. By following this star, they were able to navigate their way North to freedom. Though the origins of "Follow the Drinking Gourd" are not clear, the song underscores the quest and thirst for emancipation that existed amongst the oppressed. If accurate, the song describes a trail from Mobile, Alabama to Paducah, Kentucky. Once in Paducah, individuals could cross the Ohio River to the free states. The song was reworked by Lee Hays in 1947 and gained popularity during the Civil Rights era. The Texas Folklore Society has record of the 1928 published version of the song, which contains verses written in local dialect. Lyrics from that version of "Follow the Drinking Gourd" are shown below.

When the sun come back,
and the firs’ quail call,
Then the time is come.
Foller the drinkin gou’d.
Foller the drinkin gou’d,
Foller the drinkin gou’d;
For the old man say,
“Foller the drinkin gou’d.”
The riva ends a-tween two hills,
Foller the drinkin’ gou’d;
Nuther riva on the other side
Follers the drinkin gou’d.
Wha the little riva
Meet the grea’ big un,
The old man waits –
Foller the drinkin’ gou’d.