has become an artistry for some
Jennings County, Ind.,
family are jack-o’-lantern fanatics
|October 2013 Edition
(October 2013) – As autumn nights begin to lengthen, the glowing smiles and snarls of jack-o’-lanterns begin to appear in windows and doorways.
And few homes shine more brightly with the traditional carvings than that of the Boyd Family Farm, located in rural Jennings County, Ind., not far from North Vernon. Twenty years ago, Wesley and Melody Boyd put out 15-20 pumpkins for Halloween. The next year, Melody’s sisters, remembering the fun that the five girls had decorating pumpkins as children, decided that they wanted in on the display and the arrangement grew to 40 jack-o’-lanterns. Each year, more family members got involved, and soon the Boyds realized that complete strangers were stopping by to enjoy their tradition.
Wesley and Melody Boyd pose
at their Jennings County, Ind.,
home where they grow and
carve pumpkins that they
display for visitors.
Wesley Boyd, 56, estimates that on any given evening during the two weeks before Halloween he will have close to 300 jack-o’-lanterns on display. “We use over 400 pumpkins a year,” he said, explaining that the family is “constantly re-carving” in order to replace the pumpkins that begin to go bad during their extended show.
“We’ve tried everything,” he says, from bleach to shellack, in an attempt to make the carved pumpkins last. “But it’s easier to just carve another pumpkin.”
History of the
People have been making jack-o'-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. The practice originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed "Stingy Jack." According to the story, 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 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.
In past years, they have bought their pumpkins, but this year, they are hoping to pick enough pumpkins from their own patch, says Melody, 56. “It all depends on the weather, but I think we will have enough without having to buy any more.” Most of the artistic pumpkins are carved by Becky Sargent and her mother, Cheryl Ward, both of Zenith.
It takes about 20 of the Boyd’s family members and friends to make the display possible. They all gather and carve for two solid days and then open their display for the Halloween season.
Wesley says there is a lot more to the job than just carving, and “some gut, some trace patterns” and one person’s job is just to haul away all the pumpkin insides and discarded pieces. And he confesses that he also recruits “a few spooks and goblins” to wander in costume among the pumpkins to add some friendly scares.
Boyd says that he believes that what makes a pumpkin an ideal candidate for a jack-o’-lantern is “character.”
“We don’t like a perfect pumpkin,” he says, thoughtfully. He encourages aspiring pumpkin carvers not to worry much about making mistakes, “I can honestly say I’ve butchered a lot of pumpkins over the years,” Boyd says, laughing.
His main piece of advice is not to use a knife as it is all too easy to get hurt that way, recommending that people use the small tools in the pumpkin carving kits that can be found in many area stores. “Be patient, take your time,” he stresses. “If you mess up, turn it around” and try carving on the other side.
A number of unusual tricks are employed by the Boyds to make their display truly memorable. Instead of candles, they use Christmas lights to make their carvings glow. In addition to avoiding the fire hazards and unpredictability of candles, the electric lights can be made to flash or used to add a hint of color. Another of Boyd’s suggestions is to “put a pumpkin inside another pumpkin,” with the result being a jack-o’-lantern of amazing depth.
Photo courtesy of Reuters
Ray Villafane, a New Yorker who resides in Arizona, carves one of his many pumpkins.
Approximately 3,000 people a year now make the Boyd Family Farm a part of their own Halloween celebrations. Drawing visitors from Louisville, Cincinnati and Indianapolis, the display also serves as a fundraiser for a variety of area children’s causes. While the Boyds do not charge an admission fee, they do accept donations, which in the past have been used for such things as a local church camp and children’s film festival.
The Boyds have also shared their advice and experiences with the Columbus, Ind., pumpkin-carving contest called “Night of a Thousand Jacks.” The event serves as an Advocates for Children fundraiser and tends to raise between $8,000 and $16,000 a year for the organization. “We tried to help them get it started,” Boyd says of the contest, now in its fifth year.
• The Boyd Family Pumpkin Display will be up from Oct. 26 to Nov. 2 at 6265 E. Co. Rd. 920 North in Zenith, about 15 miles east of North Vernon, Ind. More than 250 carved pumpkins will be on display in the yard and porch. The Boyds do not sell pumpkins. For directions, call Melody Boyd at (812) 591-3007 or (812) 767-3716.
• For more information on the Columbus, Ind., carving contest, please visit http://nightofathousandjacks.com/
• Pumpkin Palloosa will take place from 11 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Bartholomew County Historical Society, 524 Third St., Columbus, Ind. Preregistration is required, please call (812) 372-3541. The program will also be presented at the Yellow Trail Museum from 11 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 5.
• Ray Villafane will be presenting a carving event from 1-4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the University of Kentucky South Campus Courtyard in Lexington, Ky. It is sponsored by the Student Activities Board. For information, call (859) 257-8868.
Rick Scalf, Community Outreach Coordinator for Advocates for Children, says that the jack-o’-lanterns that tend to place the best are the ones that are the most creative. “Anything that grabs people’s attention and makes them stop.”
Over the years, entries have grown more elaborate. Scalf says that the introduction of the team category, where multiple carvers arrange multiple pumpkins into a cohesive display, truly have brought a new level of interest and visual excitement to the event. He is looking forward to the Oct. 26 “Strolling Night,” where the pumpkins will be on display. Organizers are aiming for 1,000 jack-o’-lanterns, and based on early entries, Scalf says, “I think this is going to be our biggest year yet.”
Last August, pumpkin lovers were treated not only to the sight of the massive pumpkins competing in the Giant Pumpkin Contest at the Indiana State Fair, but also enjoyed demonstrations by renowned pumpkin sculptor Ray Villafane. Villafane, a New Yorker who is based in Arizona, first shot to fame with his victories on two editions of the Food Network’s “Outrageous Pumpkins” challenge show. His style involves sculpting the pumpkins into incredibly detailed figures and faces.
Tom Gary, member of the Indiana State Fair Board of Directors, explains, “He doesn’t cut holes all the way through; he scrapes the skin away.”
Becky Sargent of Zenith, Ind.,
carves one of the large
pumpkins at the Boyd
Family Farm. Below are
some of the Boyd pumpkin
carvings from last year.
This year’s jack-o’-lantern
display goes up Oct. 26
through Nov. 2.
Villafane’s sculptures are not lit like traditional jack-o’-lanterns. His innovative and stunningly expressive figures have changed what people consider possible with the art. “He’s probably the best there is,” says Gary.
During his performances at the Indiana State Fair, Villafane carved multiple “regular sized pumpkins” and one 600-pounder, according to Gary. “Last year, he did an Indian Chief; this year, it was like a man eating his way out of the pumpkin,” Gary says of the large sculpture.
After the fair, Villafane traveled to an event in Hong Kong, and the winner of the Indiana Giant Pumpkin Contest, a 1,039-pound pumpkin grown by Dwight Slone of Kentucky, was sent along to be carved as part of the festivities. Gary says that Villafane reported that the attendees at the China event had “never seen a pumpkin like that.”
Gary says that competitive pumpkin growing has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. It was not until the 1990s that a pumpkin weighted in at more than 1,000 pounds. “Until then, 600-800 pounders were big pumpkins,” he says. Just last year, a pumpkin broke the 2,000-pound barrier, and growers are constantly looking to produce even larger specimens.
But size isn’t the only thing that has changed when it comes to pumpkins over the years. Steve Fouts of Berry Best Farm, 26011 Hwy. 62. in Naab, Ind., has seen trends in pumpkins over the 20-odd years he has been growing. As people explore new possibilities in carving and decorating, many now want a pumpkin that looks more unique and less like a perfect orange circle.
“They want more of this different stuff,” he says with a laugh. He adds that growers and breeders in turn “just keep coming up with more and more different looking pumpkins.” Berry has carried pumpkins that are multicolored and oddly patterned.
Photo courtesy of the Indiana State Fair
Ray Villafane’s work
attracted a crowd at the
recent Indiana State Fair.
“We’ve has ones that look like they have lace all over them.”
Others are “very warty, very strange looking,” he says. In addition to the bright orange pumpkins with which most people are familiar, Fouts also carries some of the older varieties of pumpkin, such as the American Cheese that are more of a buff color. Getting into even more color variety are the Jardale (also called Jarrahdale) pumpkins that feature a blue or blue green exterior and the white pumpkins that have gaining in popularity in recent years as well. In addition to adding an unexpected touch to fall decorations, Fouts says of the Jardales, “I think they makes the best pies.”
He says that while color and shape are important in a pumpkin, many people also consider the quality of the stems in making their selections with some seeking long, curving stems to add to the overall look of their pumpkin. While Fouts shares that “good symmetry” is often considered highly attractive, “I’m not afraid to put things out that are strange.”
Every customer has a unique vision of their own perfect pumpkins, and so he says, “I try to have something of everything, even if it looks odd.”
For those curious about the origins of pumpkin carving, the Bartholomew County Historical Society in Columbus, Ind., will present “Pumpkin Palloosa” on Oct. 19. The program will share the history of pumpkins in the United States and give guests a chance to carve a pumpkin to take home. Education manager Anna Barnett explains that pumpkin carving is actually an American twist on the old Irish tradition of carving turnips during the fall. She says that when Irish immigrants discovered the pumpkin, they quickly found that it was “a lot easier than carving turnips.”
The larger size allowed for more expansive designs to be used. Using pumpkins for jack-o’-lanterns also proved to be “not quite as wasteful,” since parts of a carved pumpkin could still be eaten.
Barnett says that while “faces have always been traditional,” in the late 1800s through about 1910 a carved pumpkin would normally have round eyes as opposed to the familiar triangles that Halloween lovers are accustomed to today. She goes on to say that “in the last 10 years, it has become popular to carve scenes rather than a face.” She points to the proliferation of easy-to-use stencils that allow carvers to create more complex designs than they might be able to do on their own.
While the faces of jack-o’-lanterns may have changed over the years, their glow continues to bring a smile to the face and a shiver to the backs of all who love Halloween.
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