Like many of us, Lewis Byrne grew up carving pumpkins around Halloween.
And like many of us, many of those pumpkins were carved into crudely drawn faces, crooked smiles or often times a stencil of some spooky or funny image.
But in 2011, Byrne, a kindergarten teacher at Berry College Elementary & Middle School, took his pumpkin carving to another level than most of us do. And the result has been some amazing creations.
In 2011 he learned that a master pumpkin carver was creating incredible designs using pumpkins and Byrne decided he was going to try it.
“At first it was horrible,” Byrne said. “But as I kept doing it over and over I learned began learning more and I began getting better at it. After doing it year after year, I definitely have come a long way from when I first started.”
Byrne’s designs are sometimes whimsical and sometimes true-to-life, but they all exhibit a depth and dimension that leave many people wondering how he created them from a mere pumpkin.
“Well I look at the pumpkin and sometimes that gives me the idea,” he said. “Sometimes the shape will inspire the design. Sometimes I already have a design in mind and I look for a pumpkin that would lend itself to that.”
For example, while shopping at a local grocer store, Byrne saw a very large pumpkin sitting up on its side. He immediately saw in it an eagle with its wings spread. The Berry College eagles fascinate him so he decided that particular pumpkin would be a Berry eagle clasping a fish. Using a variety of tools he brought his vision to life.
“I use clay sculpting tools and ribbons,” he said. “I sharpen them on a bench grinder. The other tool I use a lot is a bird’s beak paring knife and an X-Acto Knife.”
Many times Byrne won’t even gut the pumpkin like most people would when carving their pumpkins for Halloween.
“I don’t put a light in my pumpkins so I don’t need to gut them,” he said. “My designs are three-dimensional anyway.”
Then he blocks off portions of the pumpkin by scraping off the dark orange skin. The deeper he scrapes and peels, the softer the flesh of the pumpkin gets and the lighter the color. If his design is a face, he’ll start with the nose since that will be the part that protrudes the most, then he works his way back toward the other features, working in layer upon layer in a design that only he can see until it’s finally done.
“The eagle was two and a half feet long and that took all day to do,” he said. “That took about six or seven hours. The smaller designs take about four hours on average.”
Byrne isn’t creating these pumpkins to sell. He loves doing it and the finished product decorates his front porch for neighbors, passers-by and trick-or-treaters to enjoy. He has even had people tell him they make sure to pass by his house around Halloween just to see the pumpkins each year.
He still doesn’t know what this year’s design will be. He loves Star Wars and he’s also toying with the idea of the “mind blown” emoji but he hasn’t settled on a design yet.
He did have a couple tips for those wanting to create their own similar pumpkin designs.
“I look for the heavier pumpkins,” he said. “I feel them for their weight. The heavier ones have a thicker flesh. I also look for a nice stem if I’ll keep it on the pumpkin.
“The larger pumpkins are easier to carve,” he added. “And you don’t want to carve on the flat side of the pumpkin. Some people do that but I think the more rounded side is better to carve because if you use the flat side, your design with have a flat face.”
Byrne also sprays his pumpkins with a bleach solution which preserves them longer and he waits until the week before Halloween to carve his pumpkin so that it will look its best for the hundreds of trick-or-treaters who visit his neighborhood.
Even his Berry College Elementary & Middle School students get into the pumpkin-carving action.
“We talk about it every year and we always carve a pumpkin for the kindergarten each year,” Byrne said. “We talk about the tools used for carving and we actually study the pumpkins for about a week and a half, learning about their life cycle and the science behind it.”