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Last weekend, visitors to the New York Botanical Garden were in for a real treat. That's because, in addition to admiring the beautiful exhibits, they got a chance to see the Michelangelo of pumpkin carvers, Ray Villafane transform oversized gourds into spine-chilling exhibits.
The team, which included Andy Bergholtz from Food Network's Halloween Wars began their busy 'Giant Pumpkin Carving' weekend with a demonstration at the city's Grand Central Station, where thousands of commuters got a chance to see them sculpt a grotesquely large pumpkin into an amazingly detailed Halloween zombie.
They then moved their efforts to the garden, where they continued their scary creations. At the end of the three days, the pumpkins had magically been transformed into an exhibit comprising of a life-sized zombie that seems to be rising from the soil, pulling along with it pumpkin vines attached to some smaller pumpkin zombies laying on the ground.
To carve these masterpieces, the team used three of the largest pumpkins grown in the United States, this year. They all weighed over 1,750 pounds, with the largest exceeding 1,800 pounds. The carvings are part of the garden's annual Haunted Pumpkin Garden Festival, which will be open to the public until October 31st and besides these scary beauties also includes 500 other intricately carved gourds ranging from scarecrows to snakes and even insects!
While the pumpkin maestro is now well known for his extraordinary carving talents, Ray's path to this unusual hobby was entirely accidental. After graduating from the school of Visual Arts in New York City in 1991, he decided to pursue a career as an art teacher in Bellaire, Michigan.
Faced with a pumpkin carving project one Halloween, he decided to tackle it like he was molding a sculpture out of clay, rather than carving a fruit. While he thought it turned out okay, the kids loved it so much, that they kept bringing in pumpkins for him to carve. That's when he realized he may have some hidden talent and began to offer them to local hotels and restaurants.
He enjoyed it so much that he decided to try his hand at professional sculpting - not dull wax figures, but fun Marvel characters like Sabretooth, Magneto, and The Punisher. He was so good that he left his teaching job and joined DC comics as a full-time 'sculptor' of wax prototypes of toys and action figures.
Though pumpkin carving remained his favorite fall hobby, only the locals knew how good he was until 2007, when he was invited to Food Network's Outrageous Pumpkin Challenge, and pitted against three professional carvers. Not only did he win, but the episode was so popular that he was invited to compete again in 2010. He was of course, still the best!
Today, Ray's Halloween pumpkins are world-famous with fans eagerly awaiting to see what ghoulish carvings he will conjure up each year. While his pumpkins may look out of this world, Ray who spends about two hours on each of the smaller masterpieces, says that he uses the most basic pumpkin carving tools. His key to success is the fruit he selects - Big and heavy, so that there is plenty of flesh to sculpt with and, gnarly instead of perfectly round, to add character to his creations.
What's even more interesting is that Ray has no drawing or even a preconceived idea of what he is going to carve when he begins. He sometimes sketches an outline on the gourd, but most times, he just looks at the shape of the fruit, for inspiration.
The artist says that despite the fact that his amazing sculptures are short-lived and end up in the compost pile, he enjoys carving pumpkins more than anything else. Luckily for all of us, there are plenty of photos and videos to admire! To see more of Ray's masterpieces and even get some carving tips check out villafanestudios.com.
Resources: ifc.com, villafanestudios.com, dailymail.co.uk