For most of us, carving pumpkins consists of primary shapes and trying not to cut our fingers off. But for Villafane Studios, pumpkin carving is truly an art form. For the past eight years they’ve been turning pumpkins into celebrity portraits, eye-popping tableaux, and 3D masterpieces that have earned them fans around the world. They’re also regulars on the Food Network Channel, where they carve pumpkins for millions of viewers every year.And their growing fame is more than justified—Villafane has taken our idea of the traditional jack-o-lantern and turned it on its head, creating pumpkins that are mind-blowing works of art.
We recently chatted with Ray Villafane, founder of Villafane Studios and sculptor-extraordinaire. Read on to find out his inspirations and what he looks for in a perfect pumpkin:
BookTrib: What made you chose to start sculpting pumpkins in the first place?
Ray Villafane: I taught kindergarten through 12th-grade art for 13 years. One year a student brought in a pumpkin he had grown. I decided to try and carve a pumpkin in a 3D manner using clay sculpting/pottery tools. The results were a far cry from the pumpkins you see on our website. They were, however, good enough for students to feel inclined to bring in pumpkins of their own for me to carve. It quickly became an annual tradition and my ability to carve slowly got better. Ironically, pumpkin carving was sort of my introduction to sculpting.
BT: Your pumpkins are so unique, particularly in the way they use every part of the pumpkin—including the stems and vines. How do you come up with your ideas?
RV: I never know how to answer the inspiration/ideas/influence question. I’m so obsessed with pumpkins I tend to find inspiration and ideas in just about anything. I daydream often. It’s a matter of having the pumpkin-stuff softly playing in the background of my mind. Every once in awhile it fuses with a separate fleeting thought and there arises a creative idea.
BT: Villafane Studios has such a dedicated team of sculptors: how did you find each other?#
RV: It really just depends. Some of our sculptors reached out to us, and some I reached out to, suggesting they try pumpkins due to their experience in the methods of subtractive sculpting.
BT: In the summer you do sand sculptures, in the fall you do pumpkins, but what does the rest of your year look like?
RV: The rest of the year still consists of pumpkins, if not carving them then definitely thinking about them. As I said before, thoughts of pumpkins are like a soft melody in the back of my head at all times.
BT: We’ve been noticing a wider range of pumpkins available these days, like the Cinderella pumpkin and the heirloom varieties. Which type are you partial to? What do pumpkin growers do when they see you coming?
RV: When carving a 3D face onto a pumpkin, a thick wall is important, not so much the type of pumpkin. Determining the thickness of the wall is nearly impossible without cutting into it. This is why I carefully choose pumpkins that are heavy “for their size.” The stem, color, and shape are all a distant second when finding the perfect candidate to carve.
As for the growers, we buy our pumpkins from certain farms every year. So they know what they have to look forward to when I come to the patch!