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About 6 months ago I wrote an article in The Gourd magazine that looked at the differences between the AGS Judge Training Program and several Garden Judge programs [The National Garden Club (NGC), the American Hemerocallis Society (AHS), the American Iris Society (AIS)]. The Garden Clubs are more rigorous in terms of the training course work; they include an apprentice status for a period of time before being a certified judge; and they include mandatory on-going education and a minimum amount of judge experience to retain their creditials.   

What are your thoughts regarding tightening the training coursework, adding an apprenticeship as part of the certification processes, and offering and requiring continuing education to maintain the Judge credential?

What other changes would help to strengthen the AGS Judging Program?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and suggestions. Terry Noxel 

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Replies to This Discussion

Just a word of caution.  Don't scare folks away from judge training by making it too difficult.  It's hard enough to get them to judge for the shows the way it is now. 

Agreed. It will be a balancing act between attracting and retaining judges and building a program that does justice to the responsibility of being an accredited judge and the credibility of an AGS-Judged Competition.

This program is just getting off the ground.  It's a learning process for all of us.  The best education is experience with other judges, I think.  People who work as clerks are, in essence, apprentices.  I think it would be good to maintain our credentials, but we must be invited to judge somewhere and there are limited opportunities at this time.  I think we need to give ourselves time to work out any problems as we go.

I agree Darlene. I only have one opportunity a year in my home state. I think that may be pretty common for most judges. I travel to other states to judge but not everyone gets that opportunity.

I personally think todays judging training is adequate for beginning judges also. Experience under experienced head judges or other experienced judges is invaluable but not always available.

A suggestion for judges training might be to stress enforcing the existing rules for judging. If pieces are entered in incorrect categories, move them to their correct category. If they are dyed or colored in a category that says no coloring, clear coat only, disqualify them. If they are woven and the category says no weaving, move them. If a Master or Open ability is entered in Novice, move them. Be consistent with your judging...etc.

I would work more toward making Categories and Divisions more consistent between states. Right now everyone is doing their own thing or piggy backing on a neighboring states rules, well thought out or just available at the time. Pick the best competition rules of all the states and use them as a beginning model for all. A state just starting out really has no base model from AGS as a place to start. That's what should be addressed by AGS.

I agree with all, Bonnie, except making all the states consistant on categories and Divisions.  It was fun to see something different in Florida than what I see in Texas or Arizona.  Guess you could say I believe in States rights.  LOL  Some states do not have as many top gourd artists as, say, AZ.  So, divisions can't be the same.  Here in Texas we go more toward allowing rim treatments in Technique categories.  Other states don't and things like that should be up to each state to decide.  Some have more craft type categories  while others' don't.  Of coures, this is just my opinion.


I agree Judy! I just meant that AGS should have a base model, then the individual states can pick and choose what fits their state to start out. Then the individual categories remain consistent in the base. It still gives states the option to add categories and divisions as their state competitions grow and their needs change. States just need a common base to start from.

AZ is a fine example of a very comprehensive set of rules, categories and divisions for AGS to look at because of it's years in competition and because of the artist/craft base they have that has developed them. AGS wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel, just look at several state wheels already in motion and build a set of spokes as a guideline for all. Each state can still pick which spokes work best for them.

It would also make teaching the judging classes easier in each state if all judges were taught under the same guidelines. The judging portions are the same(AGS) but it gets cloudy when their individual rules, cat. and div. are brought into training. Right now the Master Judges in individual states are teaching different curriculum. They teach a part of their classes by their states rules, categories and divisions, written differently in every state. I'd just like to see more commonality set up by AGS. I think it would actually make life easier for the states just starting out. And as long as the established states saw their contributions in the overall package set up by AGS, it should make it better for all to begin to use the AGS base.

I agree with that.  So, folks are teaching judging to their criteria and not what AGS says to do.  Didn't know that.  When Bob and I taught in TX, we went straight by the AGS book, just like we were taught.  I do know that some judges around the country sure don't follow the rules that are in the AGS book.  Probably can never change that, since people are people with their own ideas.


I believe they are using the AGS Judging Handbook to teach judging but their own state rules, category and division are a part of the training as examples for their trainees to follow. That's where I'd like to see everyone trained the same between states, with the wording and understanding of the wording to be from the same source. Judging may go faster too if everyone is on the same page.

The AGS rules are intended more to give some guidance and conformity in judging itself - they never intended to set up divisions, categories, etc.  Every show has their own needs.  For example, AZ stopped offering a pen and ink category when there were consistently no entries.  Other states might not offer a "Southwest" category.  Nobody wants to regulate those kinds of things.

What we would like to see is fairness in the judging.  We want to educate people about what makes one gourd more deserving of a blue ribbon than another.  We want to educate people so that personal biases don't enter into their decisions.  We want our judges to be as educated as possbile so they don't reward people for copying.  We want judges to follow categories and rules as laid out by that particular competition, but at the same time follow the judging standards set forth by the AGS (lack of bias, evaluation of skills, techniques, appropriateness to category, etc.)

I have seen people with absolutely NO training thrust into judging.  Half of the time they have no clue what they are even supposed to be looking for.  That's where our training can help.  I really feel people need some experiences as a clerk before they judge in order to do a decent job. 

We'd like to change the title "Master Judge" as it exists today into "Judge Trainer".  In no way are most of our current "master judges" truly qualified to use that title.  It was a mistake to use name that instead of the more appropriate "Judge Trainer".  A TRUE Master judge should be one with years of experience in both judging and in training others by example. It helps if they are a good artist themselves, but if they know what to look for they can still be a good and fair judge.

When I judge, I spend time talking about decisions made by our judging group so that the clerk learns on the job about what we are looking for in entries.  I also write comments on the back of entry tickets when time allows so the person knows why they did or did not score well.  People really crave that feedback.

FYI - Nobody is ever going to get judging perfect.  It's just not possible when you have different judges every time.  The point is for competitions to learn every time and to try to improve the experience from one year to the next.  Have a bad judge?  Don't invite them back.  Appoint the most experienced people to be head judges or leaders for smaller judging groups.  Make judges justify their choices with either a score sheet or by verbalizing within the judging group.  Educate through the process as much as possible.

AGS does need to help the Chapters in ways that make the competition more straightforward for both the entrants and the Judges. More specificity will help everyone get it right -- for example, if the category says gourd basket, all natural, gourd must predominate -- are leather or ink dyes ok or does it mean no coloring at all? artificial sinew or waxed linen ok or not? what does gourd must predominate mean, exactly? What is natural and what is not? Once these types of specifics are established the Show Chair and Head Judge can hold a session with their judges to review these specifics and help to ensure the fair and unbiased application at the event.


Hay Terry, I agree that the guidelines for the classes need to be refined. But that is up to the states or showchair. Several years ago we (the Texan's...lol) crossed this very issue. 1st there is no way for a judge to decide if any of the materials used are "All Natural" we dropped any references to this issue....each year it seems we work on the phrasing of the classes trying our best to keep it as simple yet defining of what the committee wants for each class.  We want our members or entrants to enter their work and not mis-understand the guideline so they just don't enter. Now once again if there is a class that the show wants to be "All Natural" I would think the entrant would need to submit a materials list with the piece.....that's splitting hairs but it would be the only way to cover the issue and know what was used. I sure don't know what is really natural in leather dyes, inks, waxes, finish products....etc. etc....we have really tried to work on our guidelines just for the reason you just posted. The jusges would need to know these guidelines before judging and either reject the piece or not. I like gourds that have growth scares but they are judged down or bypassed.

Not all Chapters have been as proactive (as TX), and yet there is probably room for improvement. After every show we (PA) have a "Keep, Stop, Start" meeting to continuously improve our show. That's what I want to try to do for AGS-Judged Competitions, in the spirit of continuous improvement.

Regarding the use of the terms "natural" and gourd must predominate in the gourd basketry category (Ohio) there was a lack of concensus regarding on how to judge based on these "requirements." As students we debated them and came to our own conclusions and then were surprised the next day when the official judges selected different winners. I left with more questions than answers. I have reached out to the Natural Fibers Group for input and will gather and share what I learn on this and other vague categories.

Everyone, what can be made more clear?


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