Carving of a world record pumpkin in the New York Botanical Garden.

In 1584, after French explorer Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence region of North America, he reported finding “gros melons.” The name was translated into English as “pompions,” which has since evolved into the modern “pumpkin.”  Pumpkins are a fruit, native to the western hemisphere and have been harvested for over 5,000 years.  Pumpkins are low in calories, fat, and sodium and high in fiber. They are good sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein, and iron.  Now, I can say without any hesitancy that pumpkins are also the most wonderful seasonal medium of artistic creation.

Ray Villafane has sculpted the White House pumpkins, appeared on Martha Stewart, and carved for Heidi Klum’s Annual Halloween Party.  With this success, he decided to amp up his presence on the world stage by establishing Villafane Studios, a group of talented sculptors who not only tear up a mean piece of fruit during the fall months, but, also construct sand sculptures for events and parties that will make you want to throw away your beach pail and shovel in humiliation.  Before you become too disgusted, though, keep in mind that they do offer classes and even sell an instructional dvdThe team at Villafane Studios consists of Ray Villafane, Andy Bergholtz, Trevor Grove, Chris Vierra, Alfred Paredes, and Patrick Burke.

Ray Villafane (on left) with Andy Bergholtz

Ray has a rather interesting story in how he came into his current career.  Beginning as a K-12 art teacher in Bellaire, MI from 1993 to 2006, he introduced pumpkin carving to his classrooms as one of his projects in design.  After receiving some custom requests from his student’s families, he caught the wind of opportunity and began selling his talents to local businesses to supplement his income.  In 2004, one of his non-pumpkin practice sculptures, Wolverine of X-Men fame, caught the eye of Bowen Designs, which then led to contracts over the next several years creating sculptures exclusively for DC Direct, gaining notable clients such as Warner Bros./DC Comics, Marvel, McFarlane Toys, Hasbro and Sideshow Collectibles in the process.  After appearing on an extremely popular television program Food Network Challenge: Outrageous Pumpkins, Villafane Studios was encouraged to become a reality.

Here is a list of upcoming events that Villafane Studios will be participating in, check them out if they are in your area.  I pulled this off their official website.  For more up to date info, get yourself on their Facebook page.

September 26- 30th – SAN JUAN and PONCE, PUERTO RICO.  Taking a little sand sculpting and some pumpkin carving back to his roots. More details to come.

October 7th in Jackson, Michigan at the ELLA SHARPE MUSEUM, Ray’s Partner Andy Bergholtz with be delivering some Villafane Studios style pumpkins.

October 13th – UESUGI PUMPKIN PARK in San Martin, California for their Annual Weigh Off and some Pumpkin Carving Fun.

October 14th – ADOBE PUMPKIN FAM  in Petaluma, California from 10 am to 4 pm.

October 19 through October 21st – Ray, Andy and our Dream Team of Sculptors will be supplying New York City with a Return of the Zombies. This spectacular event will start off at GRAND CENTRAL STATION  on the 19th and move to NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDENS where Ray will once again be carving the World Record Pumpkins.  You will catch Ray and his team on Good Morning America and the Today Show that week too so STAY TUNED!

October 22nd – October 28th – Ray, Andy and their Dream Team are Back in Niagara Falls, Canada creating some pumpkin Masterpieces as Phase II of their “secret project”.

October 27th – Villafane Studios Dream Team Member Alfred Parades will be carving at the Howl-o-ween Fest in Cypress, Texas.
Above, I included a link to Martha Stewart.  Don’t be afraid to click on it.  It will take you to a video of Ray Villafane doing a live interview and carving demonstration on Martha’s show.  If it is your first time watching, as it was mine, you won’t be disappointed.  I could not directly place this video on this article, so I included one I could.  Martha’s show is better, but, if you refuse to click, the video below demonstrates Ray’s skills in action.
All this talk about pumpking art got me curious about how the whole jack o’ lantern idea got started.  My thanks to History Channel and University of Illinois for educating me.

According Irish myth, a man named Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions of Jack’s lanterns by carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes and placing them into windows or near doors to frighten away Stingy Jack and other wandering evil spirits. In England, large beets are used. Immigrants from these countries brought the jack o’lantern tradition with them when they came to the United States. They soon found that pumpkins, a fruit native to America, make perfect jack o’lanterns.

Hope you enjoyed the post, check out my other articles here.  Follow me on Twitter @HugoSchoen

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