Three years ago, in 2015, the Town of Carefree, Arizona was seeking a pumpkin carver to help their newly-planned fall festival become an instant success. Luckily for them, world-famous American sculptor and artist Ray Villafane fell in love with the Carefree Desert Gardens, and the annual Enchanted Pumpkin Garden was born. Now in its fourth year, the free event, which took place from October 19 to 28 2018, includes numerous fun Halloween activities for both kids and adults. However, it is the pumpkin carvings that remain the star attraction.
This year, Villafane and his team of four artists made their way to the venue in early October to carve the popular “pickled” pumpkins that were first introduced in 2017. Placed inside tanks resembling sculpted saguaro cacti to blend in with the environment, the 3D masterpieces were steeped in a special solution that helped preserve them for an extended period of time.
Throughout the ten-day festival, Villafane and his team also held several live demonstrations. sculpting new pumpkin masterpieces to add to the impressive collection already on display. Budding pumpkin carvers received invaluable tips from the maestro himself on the family-instructional carving nights held on October 25 and 26, 2018.
In addition to the carved pumpkins, guests were also treated to a pumpkin world, complete with mini-storylines and narratives. The whimsical tales featured pumpkin zombies running through the grass, a pair of fishermen, or, as is more appropriate, fisher-pumpkins, a terrified gourd hung upside down by an “evil lord,” and a group of helpless pumpkins attempting to free their peers imprisoned by a scary-looking skeleton.
Villafane even had some surprising apprentices: industrious stuffed rats who were sewing a faux pumpkin because they were too small to lift a real one. Guests also had the opportunity to admire Villafane’s brand new character creations – Antashka and Gourdy Ghouligan and his Carefree Hooligans.
The highlight of the festival, however, came on Saturday, October 27, when the world-renowned carver transformed a colossal 693-pound pumpkin into a smug-looking dinosaur that appeared to have just devoured his favorite meal.
The fun festival also featured many other activities, including pie-eating contests, story-telling by witches and warlocks, pumpkin arts and crafts, face painting, and pumpkin carving contests. A corn maze, introduced for the first time this year, was an added bonus.
Villafane’s incredible talent first came to light in 1993 after he sculpted a pumpkin for his students during Halloween. As news of the then art teacher’s skills spread, he became inundated with requests and was soon selling his creations to neighborhood hotels and restaurants. In 2004, while still teaching, he decided to use his skills to create action figures for Marvel Comics. Villafane’s prototype design of X-Men's Wolverine,as Logan was so realistic that it was immediately put into production. Over the next two years, the artist created numerous popular characters, including Sabretooth, Magneto, and The Punisher. In 2006, Villafane accepted a full-time position carving toys at DC Comics. In 2010, after winning the Food Network’s Outrageous Pumpkins Challenge twice, in 2008 and 2010, he finally decided to pursue his true passion – pumpkin carving. Since he first began carving 23 years ago, the maestro has sculpted 2576 gourds in 102 cities around the world.
The expert, who uses basic carving tools for even his most intricate creations, says the key to success is selecting the right fruit. He recommends seeking out a big and heavy pumpkin that has enough flesh for sculpting. Villafane also prefers gourds with lines and curves because they help add character to his creations. Great tips to keep in mind as you go about creating your spooky Halloween pumpkins.
Have a Happy and Safe Halloween!
Resources: Villafanestudios.com, Carefreepumpkingarden.com