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ART OF THE PUMPKIN; JACK-O'-LANTERNS ARE A TRADITION FOR SOME, A JOB FOR OTHERS - BUT FUN FOR ALL.

Byline: Carol Bidwell Staff Writer

Jesse Nester is a cutter and a slicer. Pat Monroe is a sawer and a poker. Doug Goodreau is a shaver and a sculptor.

Three artists with three methods, but with the same goal in mind: a spooky carved pumpkin to light up the Halloween darkness.

``Pumpkins can be art, if you do it right,'' said Goodreau, who's won so many pumpkin carving contests so many times he's been banned from competing and now gives carving demonstrations. ``They can be anything you want them to be - or can imagine.''

Nester, 25, of Van Nuys has been carving pumpkins since he was 10 or so, and carving professionally at the Tapia Family Pumpkin Patch in Reseda since he was 15. He and owner Tom Tapia spend Halloween weekend carving scary faces on pumpkins for the families who come to buy the makings for their own jack-o'-lanterns.

``Our family wasn't real big on pumpkin carving,'' Nester said. ``But we'd always have one or two. We wanted the general feel of Halloween.''

Most of his carving skills were learned on the job, to amuse the hundreds of kids who visit the pumpkin patch each year.

He favors a short-bladed, serrated knife when he's giving a pumpkin a personality.

``A knife goes around corners real well, but you can break a saw doing sharp curves,'' Nester said.

Most of his designs go all the way through the pumpkin's flesh, but he also cuts part way through to give designs some shading, particularly when carving faces.

The best pumpkin for carving depends on what you like, Nester said. Kids who visit the pumpkin patch like the ``ghost pumpkins'' - hybridized to grow with a grayish-white skin, although the insides are pumpkin-orange. Nester's favorite is the Big Max. The sheer weight of the pumpkin pulls it off-center as it grows, resulting in a lopsided squash he says has more creative potential than just the ordinary pumpkin.

``The only thing is you want it to sit well for presentation. And you want at least one good `face' to put your design on.''

Every once in awhile, the fields in Lancaster, where the Tapias grow their pumpkins, will yield one that looks like a human's bare backside. ``The kids call them `butt pumpkins,' '' Nester said with a laugh. ``And sometimes we'll come up with what we call a `monster pumpkin' that's all bumps and lumps. The kids see them and go nuts, but they're not really monsters. It's all a result of fertilization and pollination.''

Monroe, a Yorba Linda resident, also began carving as a child and grew up to carve pumpkins for many television shows. She favors straightforward designs that go right through to the inside of the pumpkin, a method best suited to the carving tools devised in the mid-1940s by her dad, Paul Bardeen.

Worried that his four daughters - son John hadn't been born yet - would cut their fingers along with pumpkin flesh when creating a jack-o'-lantern, Bardeen fitted a coping saw blade into a short length of dowel to create a safer saw, and gave his girls first a hatpin, and later a big nail, to use to punch-mark their designs.

``With these tools, we would each carve our own pumpkins,'' said Monroe, now 63. ``Every one of us would design our own pumpkin, usually with our names, our ages and the year on it.''

And dad was always in the thick of things, carving his own spooky faces for his own girls and the neighbor kids, who loved his makeshift tools. After Paul Bardeen died in 1972, John, the youngest of the Bardeen kids, thought it would be a fitting tribute to their father - as well as a boon to kids everywhere - to refine his dad's carving tools and market them around Halloween.

Denver-based Pumpkin Masters - which sells scrapers, drills, saws and patterns for spooky and funny designs at discount, drug and other stores - was born.

Halloween was always an exciting time in the Bardeen home, Monroe recalls.

``It's always been a big deal to go to the pumpkin patch,'' she said. ``Each of us would pick out a pumpkin that had a nice, smooth surface, good for putting a design on. We always wanted really big ones, but we had to make sure we got ones that were small enough for us to carry. We'd carve them, then carry them with us when we went trick-or-treating to show them off.''

Now, Pat, John and sisters Jan, Diane and Kathy all demonstrate skills taught to them by their dad, passing along the tricks of the trade to their own kids and to others at malls, on TV shows and at schools.

``The tradition just keeps on going,'' Monroe said. ``Dad would have loved it.''

Among the three carvers, Goodreau, 30, of Tujunga takes the most artistic approach to his pumpkin carving.

``I'm a sculptor and a painter,'' said Goodreau, who makes up bodies at a funeral home and is studying at California State University, Los Angeles, to be a paleontologist. ``I look at pumpkins as objects to be sculpted, shaded, worked with, then highlighted with paint.''

Like Nester, he hunts for lopsided, lumpy pumpkins on which to carve his designs with a sharp, thin-bladed knife and a handful of sculptor's tools.

``Mother Nature's got it halfway there for you,'' Goodreau said. ``You just have to find a design to fit the area. I don't mind lumps and bumps; they sometimes make the best designs. The more distorted, the better. I once found a weird-shaped pumpkin that was kinda long and curvy; I saw a dragon all curled up. I won a contest with that one. If you get a really big one, you can do a whole scene on it.''

Misshapen pumpkins have another advantage, he said: Sometimes supermarkets and pumpkin patches will give them away because most carvers don't want them.

But the plain round pumpkin has its advantages, too.

``Those are neat,'' he said. ``You can devise whatever pattern you want, take one from a picture in a magazine or a coloring book or draw one freehand. You get different levels of flesh, and that gives it more depth. And if you light it up at night, it looks pretty horrific.''

Before you start carving

As any kid can tell you, it's not hard to carve a pumpkin. Eighty-six percent of kids and parents will either carve or decorate one this Halloween, according to surveys of shoppers in malls around the country.

But it takes a little expertise to come up with a pumpkin that'll make the neighborhood go ``Wow!'' when it's lighted up on Halloween night.

Here are some tips from the experts:

The best way to anchor a pumpkin for carving is to cradle it between your knees.

Cut the lid a bit off-center, with the opening a bit toward the back to give more front carving surface. Make your cuts at an angle, rather than straight up and down, so the lid won't fall through when it's replaced. Cut a notch out of the back of the lid so it can be set in place easily, and cut a small hole in the lid to act as a chimney if you plan to use candles to light your jack-o'-lantern.

Some people can be sensitive to the fibrous goo that's inside the pumpkin, so it's a good idea to wear long sleeves and rubber gloves when scooping out the insides. If your pumpkin has thick walls, scoop away the inside of the carving surface to about 1 inch thick.

Map out your design before starting to cut - with a pencil if you're carving freehand, or with a big nail or spike if you're transferring a design from a magazine, a coloring book, a pumpkin-carving pattern book or a picture you've drawn yourself. (the Pumpkin Masters Web site at www.pumpkinmasters.com provides free patterns you can download.)

Once the design is transferred to your pumpkin, it's safest to saw through the flesh with a serrated knife or carving tool. To keep blades from bending or snapping off, lift the blade out of the flesh and plunge it in again rather than trying to saw around corners.

Don't worry if you cut off a chunk you meant to leave attached. Reattach it with toothpicks, and nobody will notice the difference. Or change the design to incorporate your mistake.

Many stores sell battery-powered lights to light up your pumpkin. If you light it with candles, put them in empty baby food jars or votive holders to keep from burning the pumpkin. If you plan to photograph your handiwork, three votives inside give the best light.

Once your pumpkin is carved, it'll usually last for two or three days before it begins to dry out. But you can retard spoilage a little longer by coating cut surfaces with petroleum jelly or lemon juice. If your pumpkin does dry out, remove the light or candle, fill a tub or sink with water and soak the pumpkin overnight. Dry it off, and it should be good for another night or two.

- Carol Bidwell

Eeek! A pumpkin-carving party

If you haven't picked your pumpkin out of the local pumpkin patch, there's still time not only to carve your own jack-o'-lantern, but to plan a party where pumpkin carving is the main activity.

Here are some tips for a successful party from John Bardeen, president of Pumpkin Masters, which makes carving kits:

Schedule the party one to three days - about the shelf life of a carved pumpkin - before Halloween so your guests can show off their pumpkins to trick-or-treaters. If you live in an area where trick-or-treating is unsafe, a pumpkin-carving party can be fun on Halloween night, too, with guests arriving in costume.

Have each guest bring a pumpkin. For minimal cleanup, ask guests to clean out the insides before they arrive.

Use a pumpkin theme, serving pumpkin pie; pumpkin soup; pumpkin cookies, muffins or bread; and roasted pumpkin seeds.

Have enough knives or other carving tools for every guest. Purchased kits usually include patterns, which you can photocopy in several sizes so you have a variety.

Have an adult teach everybody how to use knives or tools to carve.

After all pumpkins are carved, have an adult place candles or battery-powered lights inside each and turn out room lights to show off everybody's handiwork. Photograph each guest with his pumpkin, and get a group shot, too.

By the light of the pumpkins, tell stories, sing songs and finish off the food.

- Carol Bidwell

CAPTION(S):

8 Photos, 2 boxes

PHOTO (1 -- cover --color) Creature features - Take a stab at creativity with your Halloween pumpkin.

Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer

(2 -- color) Doug Goodreau, a sculptor and painter who's studying paleontology, adds dimension to a pumpkin with extensive carving.

(3 -- color) Goodreau uses spray paint to put the finishing touches on one of his creations, also pictured on the cover, at the Calabasas Pumpkin Festival.

(4 -- color) ``Mother Nature's got it halfway there for you,'' Goodreau said of a pumpkin's natural shape. ``You just have to find a design to fit the area.

Eric Grigorian/Special to the Daily News

(5 -- color) Jesse Nester shows off a pumpkin at Tapia Pumpkin Patch in Reseda on which a design was drawn by Tommy Tapia, the owner's grandson.

(6 -- color) Nester uses a double-edged serrated tool for carving.

(7 -- color) Tapia, left, and Nester work on jack-o'-lanterns at Tapia Pumpkin Patch, which is stocked with fruits from the family's Lancaster farm.

(8) The finished product at Tapia Pumpkin Patch.

Charlotte Schmid-Maybach/Daily News

Box: (1) Before you start carving (see text)

(2) Eeek! A pumpkin-carving party (see text)
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 23, 1999
Words:1954
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