A small team of local artists, led by Creative Director Michael Natiello, have hand-carved more than 7,000 pumpkins for this year’s Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Old Bethpage Village Restoration, creating elaborate pumpkin sculptures for the returning walk-through experience on the grounds of the 19th-century village.
We recently had a chance to speak with Carol Hough, one of the local carvers from Massapequa, who shared some cool ideas and insights to this year’s event.
Q. Why do you carve pumpkins?
A. I grew up in a home where not only did we do a lot of arts and crafts, but Halloween was a big holiday—big decorations, homemade costumes, lots of home baked goodies and of course carving pumpkins. When I was approached about carving pumpkins as a paid job, I jumped at the chance. I get to be creative and have fun while working outdoors with an amazing group of talented people. What could be better than that?
Q. Is your skill limited to pumpkins or so you carve other materials?
A. I have carved wood, as well as sculpted clay and even marble. And in summertime the occasional watermelon works as well as a pumpkin.
Q. What’s your favorite carving at this year’s exhibit?
A. I love carving the prize winners, the big 100-plus pound pumpkins. This year we have two next to the Emoji panel display, and the kids really think they are funny. And although I did not create them, I love the sea creature section. It is just stunning.
Q. How do you get your inspiration?
A. The children that come to the show are a huge inspiration. I like to watch their reactions, and then add more of what they enjoy.
Q. How did you learn the techniques needed to achieve incredible finished result?
A. A lot of what I learned while sculpting clay or carving wood can be applied to the pumpkins. It took a while to learn how to create 3D effects using light. The fully cut areas will be pure light, the etched kind of areas will change in tone depending on how deep you go. And you learn to improvise and not worry about being perfect.
Q. How do you work around a carving error?
A. That happens a lot, and you just have to add or subtract from your design to fit it in somehow. And usually, even though I know where the error is, the person looking at it won’t be able to see it.
Q. What tools do you use to create?
A. The two main tools for live pumpkins are sheetrock knives for carving and ice cream scoops for cleaning/scraping out the seeds and pumpkin guts. For more detailed live pumpkins, as well as the pumpkins we use for large displays, we use a lot of different sized carving knives like you would find in the carving kits at the store as well as sculpting tools, like loop and ribbon tools, Exacto knives and a Dremel.
Hough has been the production coordinator and lead carver since 2020. She is an artist who focuses on painting, photography and sculpting. Hough is also a dedicated volunteer for Splashes of Hope, a nonprofit organization of mural artists dedicated to transforming healthcare environments. Through Splashes for Hope, Hough has worked on multiple projects including ceiling tiles for local hospitals that were used in children’s and maternity departments under the project name “From Clinical to Colorful.”
Ticket and date information
The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze has limited capacity and all admissions are by advance purchase timed ticket or FLEX anytime ticket. No tickets are sold on site.
Remaining Long Island dates are Oct. 20 through 23; 26 through 31 and Nov. 4 through 6.
Online tickets start at $32 for adults and $24 for children 3-17 and are free for children 2 and under.
All tickets must be purchased online. The event is held rain or shine. Proceeds support Historic Hudson Valley, the Tarrytown-based private, nonprofit educational organization, and Nassau County’s Old Bethpage Village Restoration.
The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze Shop offers a selection Blaze-specific merchandise including T-shirts and hats.
Old Bethpage Village Restoration is located at 1303 Round Swamp Rd. in Old Bethpage.
Visit www.pumpkinblaze.org for more information.