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Fancy Pumpkin Art Catches On

October 30, 1997

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) _ Toni DeWitt and her four children did their plucking in a pumpkin patch, and used modern-day magic to conjure up a vampire, a skull, a cat and a ghost for Halloween.

Gone are the days when an old-fashioned jack-o’-lantern on the porch stared back with triangle eyes, triangle nose and a few crooked teeth.

The children used templates from a $2.99 kit to punch the designs onto the pumpkins, and Mrs. DeWitt used tiny saws to connect the dots, creating their fanciful gourds.

``For my son, this is his favorite holiday,″ Mrs. DeWitt said about 5-year-old Joshua. ``He’s totally into it. He likes to stick his fingers in the guts.″

The DeWitts aren’t the only cutting-edge carvers creating creepy characters and settings with their pumpkin props.

``Our best advertising is the people who use our kits, and people say how do you do that?″ said Cheryl Stoughton of Denver-based Pumpkin Masters, one of the growing number of companies offering ways to make fancier jack-o’-lanterns.

Since 1986, Pumpkin Masters has sold more than 10 million kits consisting of patterns, miniature saws and other paraphernalia like scoops for the pumpkin’s innards, Stoughton said.

Concept Marketing has sold about 2 million kits and more than 5 million pumpkin candle holders since 1989, said Ian Allison, managing director of the non-profit company in Santa Rosa, Calif.

And, on the Internet, computer users are downloading patterns.

``We’re clearly in the business of attempting to revolutionize the way people carve pumpkins,″ said Gay Burke, president of Pumpkin Masters.

Becki Briers got her first taste of stylized pumpkins at a carving party where the host tossed plastic on the floor and 14 people began hacking, sawing and cutting their pumpkins using kit templates.

``Maybe it’s a competitive thing, to see who could have the funniest or coolest,″ Briers said. ``I guess the traditional triangle-shaped eyes and nose is not going to cut it.″

There seems to be no limit to the number of pumpkins some people will carve to show off their talent.

Produce market owner Fred Lewis has sold about 45 tons of pumpkins this month, with the average customer buying three of the orange gourds. Some buy three times that many.

``It’s better to look at pumpkins than looking at someone on TV shooting someone,″ Lewis said Wednesday. Besides, he added, ``It makes you feel like a kid again.″

Briers captured that creative feeling when she carved an intricate clown face that has been on display since Sunday night on her front porch in South Park.

``Now that I’ve had the taste of a cool pumpkin, I won’t want to go back,″ she said.

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