Library ‘gourd gala’ results in impressive pumpkin creations

Cadence Thompson shows off her spooky cat pumpkin during the pumpkin carving workshop at the Chatfield Public Library last Thursday. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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Twenty-five years later, Monica Erickson’s still holding the gourd gala, goop and all.

“Honestly, I am not sure I held one the first Halloween I started here at the library, but I’m thinking I did. If so, this will be the 25th pumpkin carving workshop that I have held at the library,” stated Chatfield Public Library director Erickson. “Marlene Hisey trained me back in 1994. I think she told me about the pumpkin decorating contests she had held at the library, and I wanted to continue that tradition. I can’t remember for sure if she also had pumpkin carving workshops in the library, but I think she did, so the idea came from Marlene.”

Erickson explained the workshop she holds for library patrons each year is usually a few days before Halloween. It has evolved into a pumpkin party that draws dedicated jack-o’-lantern carvers to the library basement.

“As interest in the pumpkin decorating contest waned, interest in actual carving increased,” she said. “Books of patterns and more refined carving tools became more easily obtainable, making it easier for just about anyone to carve some really impressive jack-o’-lanterns. I started collecting patterns, tools, pictures and new ideas every year.”

Erickson invites everyone who’s got a gourd to join her in the library’s basement and take up their tools to create some spectacular orange Halloween oracles.

“The workshop is for all ages and levels of carving experience, but young children must be accompanied by an adult or older responsible sibling,” Erickson said. “Adults and teens are totally welcome to come and take part – no child required. We have extremely simple patterns and extremely elaborate patterns — I remember choosing a pattern one year that took me several days to complete. Many patterns can easily take a couple of hours to carve, so some folks clean their pumpkins out at home, so they can get right to the task of carving when they get to the library. Some people don’t use patterns at all, and that is totally respected as well. The workshop is completely informal and everyone comes out with their own unique creation.”

Erickson has “loads” of books and patterns for workshop participants to use to carve unique jack-‘o-lanterns.

“We have books and patterns and pictures and instructions and ideas all over the lower level meeting room every year. And every year, we add more,” Erickson said. “Everything is free for you to use, and you can even run upstairs and resize a pattern on our copier to make it fit your particular pumpkin perfectly. Most of the carvers wait and decide what they want to do when they get there.”

She keeps a collection of pictures from year to year to show off the masterpieces that have been made there. “I always post the pumpkins on the library’s Facebook page after the program. I’ve also started using them in the posters to advertise the program for the following year,” Erickson added.

Attendees are asked to bring their own pumpkins, but the fun comes for free.

“Those who attend are asked to bring their own pumpkins. Sometimes someone will donate pumpkins for those who don’t have access to pumpkins or who hadn’t originally planned on attending the workshop but find themselves at the library that day and desperate to participate, but we can’t always count on that,” she said.

Erickson invites people to bring their own tools, especially if they want to limit what their children use.

“We also have a whole collection of a variety of tools available for use, so a lack of tools should never prevent someone from participating,” she said. “We also have candles on hand so we can light up the finished carved pumpkins and photograph them and their creators, both in the light and in the dark.”

Over the years, Erickson has learned a thing or two about pumpkin artistry, including what size works best for a good gooping and carving.

“Carving small pumpkins is much more difficult than carving those that are large enough to easily get your hands inside, so my advice would be to go large rather than petite,” she said.

There’s homework to be done ahead of the workshop each year, as carvers who plan to attend tend to have a better time if they’ve scooped the goop out of their gourds before arriving at the library.

“If they are planning to do a rather elaborate carving, they may want to clean out their pumpkin at home so they don’t run out of time,” she reiterated. “No one wants to miss out on getting their carved pumpkin lit up and photographed with the others that night.”

Erickson also spends a fair amount of time preparing the evening’s treats – this year, grinning green Rice Krispie bars that resembled Frankenstein’s monster, a green and purple cake drizzled with orange, green and purple frosting, pretzels with Hershey’s Hugs melted into the middles and topped with a candy corn, “monster chow” made from Chex cereal and accompanied by Kit Kat miniature bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups candy, and Ritz cracker spiders concocted from Ritz crackers, peanut butter, pretzel sticks and raisins for eyes.

“The most challenging part for me is getting enough spooky treats made in time for the program,” she said. “I’m always looking for new recipes and fun ideas to load the refreshment table with Halloween-inspired food that nudges our serious carving ‘workshop’ toward fun ‘party.’ The other challenging thing is finding room to display all the patterns I’ve collected throughout the years. You will find every available surface covered with patterns if you venture downstairs on the night of our pumpkin carving workshop. But managing all the pumpkin goop actually ends up being easier than most expect. We line the tables with old newspaper, so the newspaper and goop can all be slid right into the garbage. And everyone always seems to be so good about picking up the floor.”

She cited that her favorite parts of the evening are getting to see what others have chosen to do with their orange orbs.

“The creativity and the intricacy…I’m surprised. People who claim to have no artistic talent whatsoever end up creating carved masterpieces, and young children with little to no experience end up producing truly impressive carvings,” Erickson said. “The patterns and tools, along with some patience and ambition, really make almost anyone capable of making their pumpkin into a surprisingly impressive work of art. The best part is lighting up the finished pumpkins! That moment when they are lined up, lit, and then the lights go out…priceless. The surprise and excitement is audible. The pride, indisputable.”