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Tales from a pumpkin carver: A Jack O’Lantern Experience

November 3, 2018 GMT

She removes the guts with her hands.

Then, makes cuts like a surgeon.

Each slice of skin is measured in her mind.

It’s time for the knife to go in.

When she’s done it’s a pretty scary sight.

But that’s the intention

Francesca “Frankie” Ruggiero of Brooklyn, N.Y,. is a professional pumpkin carver. She is in Pittsburgh for “The Glow: A Jack O’Lantern Experience,” which runs Thursday through Sunday through Oct. 28 at Hartwood Acres Park in Allison Park.

“I never saw this job coming, but here I am, and it’s perfect because I love Halloween,” she says. “Halloween is a time of year when the abnormal becomes normal.”

Expect to see more than 5,000 pumpkins. The event offers an immersive Halloween stroll along a trail illuminated by jack-o’-lanterns which takes about 35 to 45 minutes. Many of the pumpkins are real and some are molded from real pumpkins. Most are supplied from local farmers.

In the pumpkin graveyard, guests encounter black cats, ghosts and gravestones.

“We are so excited to be bringing this enchanting Halloween wonderland,” says Shannon Donnelly, vice president for the The Glow.

What you will see

The Glow illuminates some of Pittsburgh’s most famous icons including Mister Rogers, Andy Warhol, Heinz and the Steelers. Decorations include musicians, movie stars, superheroes and princesses, as well as jack-o’-lantern dinosaurs that stand up to 16-feet tall.

Ruggiero created the Mister Rogers and Andy Warhol pumpkins, which she says are two of her favorites.

“Being part of ‘The Glow’ has been such a great experience,” she says. “As artists, we have taken an organic being and made it into an art display. The first free time I had in Pittsburgh I made sure I went to the Warhol Museum. I love, love, love Mister Rogers and I believe Tom Hanks is the most perfect human being for that role (in the upcoming movie being filmed in Pittsburgh).”

She’s only been doing this for a year, but she definitely has an eye for it. You notice that before you enter The Glow at her table where she does live carving demonstrations and see some scary looking mugs on pumpkins.

Ruggiero says this is the perfect job for her. An illustrator with an art degree, she has always loved Halloween. Her apartment is decorated for the scary holiday year round.

The more than three dozen devices she uses consists of lots of scoop tools in various sizes (similar to tools used to form clay), dry wall knives to gut the pumpkins and razors to make the necessary cuts for eyes and noses and mouths. These are items you get at any Michaels craft store, she says. You can also use items you have at home, as long as they have a sharp enough edge. The challenge to pumpkin carving is there are no do-overs, so you basically have to get it right the first time.

“I have not mastered the art of reconstruction,” she says. “A pumpkin is not like clay, where if you mess up, you can put it back together and start all over. It’s really about trial and error.”

Tips of the trade

A lot of what Ruggiero knows about pumpkins she’s learned by doing it. But she does offer these tips:• Choose the best side of the pumpkin - feel for soft spots.

• White areas are usually mold so avoid carving there.

• Use LED candles.

• Carve out the bottom and not the top because that takes away the nutrients.

How does she do it?

She says she doesn’t draw or sketch on the pumpkin before she carves it, and there wouldn’t be any way to stencil on the 3D sculpted pumpkins she does, some that weigh 60 pounds. She says she likes doing scary faces and enjoys getting reactions from guests.

“I just go by looking at an image or from memory of a look I have in my mind,” she says. “I believe in just going for it. It’s not easy but you get a feel for it over time.”

Times vary. Tickets are timed and start at $16. Advance tickets are required. The Glow is rain or shine. Just check the Facebook page if severe weather is in the forecast .

Details: 412-219-4513 or http://theglowjackolantern.com