Oh, My Gourd!
Ray Villafane’s pumpkin art is the centerpiece of Halloween
By Lynette Carrington
Fall is the ideal time to get acquainted with Ray Villafane, a talented artist who has literally carved a niche of his own.
It’s safe to say Villafane owns Halloween. The world-renowned talent will take center stage once again in the Enchanted Pumpkin Garden in Carefree from Friday, Oct. 19, to Sunday, Oct. 28.
Hailing from Queens, New York, Villafane graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1991. He lived briefly in Ohio and moved to Bellaire, Michigan, where he taught art to K-12 students for 13 years.
“We came to Sedona for a wedding one year and fell in love with Arizona,” Villafane says. He and his wife moved their blended family to Arizona in 2011, and Villafane Studios is now headquartered in Carefree.
He has since gone from a teacher and hobbyist to a professional sculptor. Villafane’s sculpting talent has been showcased around the world including at Heidi Klum’s annual Halloween party, in People Magazine, on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Food Network and in contracted deals with Disney, DC Comics and Warner Bros.
A few years ago, Villafane was approached by a then-employee of the town of Carefree about possible participation in a fall event.
“I visited the Spanish Garden and fell in love with the area,” Villafane says of the designated space in the middle of Carefree. “I kept seeing possibilities, and it just snowballed from there.”
His talent and artistic eye have made his art the Halloween season’s focal point. “I typically take five to six hours to carve each pumpkin – sometimes it takes all day,” Villafane says. “Sometimes I’ll spend all day and revisit it the next and work on it some more.”
Villafane simply squashes the competition with his whimsical gourds, freakishly fun scarecrows and over-the-top seasonal vignettes that bring pumpkins to life. Guests will find a whole village of vignettes expertly staged by Villafane and his crew throughout downtown Carefree with pumpkins as ghastly goblins, witches, cowboys, everyday town folk, and high divers and swimmers. Additionally, in various spots throughout the Enchanted Pumpkin Garden, carved pumpkins and gourds that have been preserved in a special liquid are displayed in large faux saguaro cactus structures.
“This year, it’s a big jump from previous years because I’m playing more with characters and stories,” Villafane says of his carved pumpkins and scarecrows.
Gourdy Ghouligan and the Carefree Hooligans are part of Villafane’s expanded character repertoire that will appear in Carefree this year. Gourdy Ghouligan is a pumpkin-headed scarecrow with a story all his own and tells spooky stories to Antoshka, his little scarecrow friend who is wide-eyed with wonder. Joining the story is Hershel, a clever mouse who has befriended Antoshka.
The Enchanted Pumpkin Garden includes live pumpkin carving, pumpkin arts and crafts, face painting, music, storytelling, pumpkin pie-eating contests, costume contest, a jack-o-lantern craft beer garden, scarecrows, an adopt-a-pumpkin patch by the Desert Foothills YMCA and fall treats and food trucks. The Carefree corn maze and harvest market are new this year. For the full schedule of events, visit carefreepumpkingarden.com.
“The town of Carefree has put a trust in me to let me do what I want, and in doing so, they allow me to pour my full passion into this,” Villafane says.
Enchanted Pumpkin Garden 101 Easy St., Carefree 480-488-3686 carefreepumpkingarden.com 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, to Sunday, Oct. 28, free admission.
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