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Drawn to pumpkins; Glowing success started in Oxford.

COLUMN: IN OUR OPINION

This time of year, John Reckner's world is one of endless pumpkins.

Cleverly carved and laid out among rocks and trees in astounding artistry and abundance, the glowing gourds draw throngs to the Jack-o'-Lantern Spectacular at Providence's Roger Williams Park Zoo.

The display has long outgrown its earlier setting at the Woodward School in Oxford. But Oxford's stamp is still all over it.

Mr. Reckner, a recently retired letter carrier who lives in Oxford, said in an Oct. 9 Sunday Telegram feature that he started the local effort after he was "awestruck" in the late 1980s by a neighborhood's joint jack-o'-lantern array in Northfield Falls, Vt. His thought back then was to add a few more gourds, and a genuine artistic touch.

The first show at the elementary school was free, lasted one magical evening, and involved 185 pumpkins. Today's popular Spectacular at the zoo started from that spark.

The creations are still carved in Oxford at the Reckner home, by a dozen full-time artists and a team of part-timers. Family members and volunteers for various tasks also have their hands in. Mr. Reckner's wife, Helga, keeps sustenance pouring out from the kitchen.

Starting in September, the pumpkin artists plot things out on paper before taking black markers to the gourds. Eventually, shortly before showtime, they get out the knives. While the sketching, scooping and cutting go on at the house, Mr. Reckner gets the gourds, by the hundreds. Some pumpkins come from Pennsylvania and elsewhere, but most are grown in Connecticut.

The total cost for this year's quarter-million pounds of pumpkins was about $75,000.

In the garage and open-air tents in the yard, pumpkin after pumpkin is eviscerated and skillfully sculpted into a face or scene of some sort, usually evoking a piece of history, pop culture or current event. For the Spectacular, which began this year on Oct. 6 and lasts through Halloween, the pumpkins must be replaced every so often because of rot. The amount of work - and sticky, stringy innards -involved is unimaginable. But the lovely end effect is worth it. Even the pumpkin goo goes to good; it's composted by the zoo.

Though lines may be long, especially on the weekends, fans return year after year to take the trek through the pumpkin trail. Kids' eyes grow wide. Later, when they close their eyes for the night, the onset of sleep is likely to be punctuated by glowing orange dots, countless and toothy.

A forest of pumpkins arising annually from a local letter carrier's idea and tons of dedication - that's how success is carved.

Entrance to the Jack-o'-Lantern Spectacular is from 6 to 10 p.m. nightly through Oct. 31 at Roger Williams Park Zoo, 1000 Elmwood Ave., Providence. The trail closes by 11 p.m. This year's theme is "A Journey Around the World." Tickets range from $9 to $14 depending on age and day of the week; plus zoo admittance. The line waiting to get in can grow long. More information is at www.rwpzoo.org.

ART: ILLUSTRATION
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 22, 2011
Words:510
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