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No Halloween celebration would be complete without a peek at pumpkin carver extraordinaire Ray Villafane's incredible masterpieces. As has been the case for the past three years, the artist and his team of equally talented carvers, spent the weekend of October 18th and 19th at the New York Botanical Garden transforming, some of the world's largest pumpkins into scary zombies.
Ray's team, which includes professional sculptor Andy Bergholtz and pumpkin artist Chris Viera, began their carving extravaganza on October 17th, with a demonstration at Manhattan's Grand Central Station. Thousands of commuters watched in awe as the apocalyptic sculpture began to emerge from the robust albeit, ordinary pumpkin. The following day, the team along with their partially completed project, moved to the New York Botanical Garden, where they continued to morph giant pumpkins into grotesquely scary creatures. Surrounded by numerous fans, the master carvers made fast work of the ginormous fruits using chain saws and tiny precision instruments.
Though in the past the maestro has relied on his imagination, this year the artist had sketched exactly what he was planning to do - a gruesome zombie, crawling out of a carved pumpkin mess and extending out its hand, as though trying to reach a smaller specimen that had managed to escape from its clutches. While creating the intricate sculpture from a fruit would have been impossible for any other carver, it did not seem to be much of an issue for Villafane's team. In fact, the final result was even better than the sketch. In addition to this masterpiece, the team also carved some smaller pumpkins and even conducted a sold-out class for those wishing to hone their carving skills.
Ray's path to this unusual career was accidental. Upon graduating from New York's School of Visual Arts, he began working as an art teacher in Bellaire, Michigan. One Halloween, he decided to take different approach to pumpkin carving by tackling the project as though he was molding a clay sculpture rather than carving a fruit. It turned out so well that his students kept bringing in pumpkins for him to carve. Realizing that he may have a hidden talent, Ray began to offer his carvings to local hotels and restaurants.
In 2004, Ray decided to put his extraordinary skills to work and began sculpting toys for Marvel Comics. His "practice" creation of a Logan version of the X-Men character Wolverine was so good, that the company immediately put it into production. For the next two years, Ray designed many wax prototypes of toys and action figures including, Sabretooh, Magneto and The Punisher. In 2006, he was wooed by rival DC Comics, where he worked until 2010.
Meanwhile, pumpkin carving remained his favorite fall hobby. But only the locals knew how good he was until 2007, when he entered Food Network's Outrageous Pumpkin Challenge and competed against three professional carvers. Not surprisingly, he won. The episode was so popular that Ray was invited to compete again in 2010. He was of course, still the best! Realizing that his true calling may be pumpkin sculpting, Ray gave up his job at DC comics and began to focus on the art, full time.
Though 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 carving tools. His key to success is the fruit he selects - big and heavy, so that there is plenty of flesh to sculpt with. He also prefers pumpkins that are gnarly with lots of lines and curves because they help add character to his creations.
In case you are wondering, when he is not busy carving pumpkins, Ray focuses on his other love - creating sand sculptures. And yes, he is equally good at that too! However, given that his extraordinary sculptures either end up in the compost bin or getting blown away, the artist's hard work is pretty short-lived! Fortunately, there a numerous pictures and videos of each masterpiece. To see more of Ray's creations and get some last-minute carving tips, check out villafanestudios.com.