Fairfielder sculpts Halloween fantasies from pumpkin patch
Published 6:44 pm, Friday, October 29, 2010
The "Peanuts" comic strip character Linus has longingly lingered in pumpkin patches every fall awaiting the arrival of the Great Pumpkin, but the long-hoped-for symbol of Halloween never materializes.
Perhaps Linus, the best friend of Charlie Brown, would have better luck if he camped out in the front lawn or backyard of Wyatt Whiteman. The Fairfield farmer has been growing the gargantuan gourds "since I found these huge seeds about twenty years ago." In September 2008, Whiteman won first place in the Penfield Beach Weigh Off for growing the biggest pumpkin that year, a 525-pounder.
These days, Whiteman is not just growing gourds and pumpkins, he's carving and sculpting them and putting his masterpieces on display in his front yard at 33 Stillson Road, near the intersection of Fairfield Woods Road. In the weeks leading up to Halloween, Whiteman lines the front of his 1760 farmhouse -- which is the age and style of his house and also the name of his farm, with a rogues' gallery of spooky and humorous characters. Some are traditional Halloween entities, like the huge skull he sculpted Wednesday on a nearly 200-pound pumpkin, and others are inventions of his own imagination.
"Each pumpkin has its own character," said Whiteman, a member of the Connecticut Giant Squash and Pumpkin Growers Association. That character and a pumpkin's shape help him determine what he will create, "who they end up being." Color also plays a role. Whiteman said he will transform a large white pumpkin into a ghost before Halloween this Sunday.
"People kind of count on me to carve them and put them out (on the front lawn each year). They look forward to seeing the giant pumpkins out there. It really is the magic fruit. It puts a smile on people's face," Whiteman said. "I get people here from 2 to 92. They get a big kick out of them. The grin from ear-to-ear," he said.
As if on cue, Nicole Cassidy of Fairfield stopped to photograph the Whiteman's latest creations Wednesday. She said she appreciates his artistry and whimsy. "Every day I drive by and marvel at them. They're ingenious and unusual and unique. I've never seen anything like them," Cassidy said.
The dozen or so there for viewing now are probably the last for the season. "I might do some random jack o'lanterns because I won't have time to do (the more elaborate ones) between now and Halloween," he said. It generally takes him between two and four hours to carve and sculpt each pumpkin, depending on the intricacy of the design.
He prefers working on the larger pumpkins. "The big ones are a lot more fun to carve because you can do a lot more with them. You can get a lot more intricate," said Whiteman, who uses clay sculpting tools and other objects to work his magic. "Usually I'm using grapefruit spoons because it has some texture to; and a good old life is key," he said.
On Wednesday, the whole family got into the activity. Unfazed by the light mist that fell throughout the afternoon, Whiteman, his wife Sarah, and several children -- their own and others -- carved their own creations.
Katie Stepsis, age 13, of Fairfield, a family friend, sat in the back of a pickup truck, carving a pumpkin. "Katie and I are going to be in a competition for the worst pumpkin," joked Sarah, as she carved a haunted house design into her pumpkin.
"Who doesn't like carving pumpkins? Everybody's an artist at Halloween," said Whiteman, who encourages people to try carving them and also growing giant pumpkins in their own backyards. The Connecticut Giant Squash and Pumpkin Growers Association "will give them free seeds and instructions on how to grow them," he said.
Whiteman said a new world record was set this year for largest pumpkin by Chris Stevens of Wisconsin, who grew a 1,810 and a half-pound pumpkin, according to the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth.
"These things grow up to 50 pounds a day. It's competition gardening; it's gardening as sport," he said.
For information about the Connecticut Giant Squash and Pumpkin Growers Association or to sign up to grow giant pumpkins next gardening season, call Whiteman at 203-576-1152.