Get the scoop about Ray Villafane: what your mother didn’t tell you about pumpkin carving

Charlotte P. '18, School News Editor

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You pick up your knife and stare down at your carving surface. Despite not having any facial features yet, a fairly large, orange pumpkin stares back up at you. The blank canvas can be intimidating. Where should you start? What kind of design or face will you carve?

For most of us, pumpkin carving is a seasonal activity, one shared with family and friends during the Halloween season. However, sculptor Ray Villafane shows us how pumpkin carving can be an entertaining art form all throughout the year.

Most famously known for his 3-D style pumpkin carvings, Villafane also sculpts action figures and collectibles using sand and snow. His pumpkin carvings are notable for their intricate details and striking facial features.

Ray Villafane, visionary and patriarch of the Villafane Studios Sculpting Family was born in Queens, New York. He spent his childhood on Long Island and was raised alongside two sisters and one brother. At a very young age Ray showed talents for art, and his mother encouraged him to pursue this passion.

Ray graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1991. In addition to his passion in art, he also pursued a career in teaching. From 1993 to 2006 Ray taught art for students in grades K-12 in Bellaire, Michigan. It was during his teaching tenure that Ray began experimenting in pumpkin sculpting, initially as projects with his students. After several custom- carved requests from students’ parents, Ray realized he was on to something with his pumpkins and started offering them to local hotels and restaurants. It became his fall hobby for several years.

In 2003, Ray married Tamara Schmidt. It was during this time that Ray was encouraged by his wife to find a signature art medium; they could use his obvious talents to support their large family. Ray decided to contact a former School of Visual Arts classmate whom he had thought to be working for Disney as an Animator. Upon speaking, he learned that the friend was actually sculpting for Disney. Having really sparked Ray’s interest, he flew to New York to spend a weekend observing his colleague in action. That weekend clarified for Ray exactly what he wanted to do; he went home and started sculpting his first piece.

Ray’s first practice sculpture actually became his first professional sculpture. In 2004, Ray was sculpting a Logan version of the X-Men character, Wolverine. He researched online sculpting forums for tips and posted his work-in- progress, requesting feedback from other
sculptors. His piece caught the attention of popular sculpting icon Randy Bowen of Bowen Designs. Between 2004 and 2005, Ray went on to sculpt several statues for Bowen Designs, including such Marvel characters as Sabretooth, Magneto (the companion piece to his Logan) and The Punisher. After undertaking a commissioned piece for the collectibles division of DC Comics, DC Direct, Ray was offered a two-year exclusive contract with DC in 2006. Within a year of sculpting, he had gained notable clients such as Warner Bros/ DC Comics, Marvel, McFarlane Toys, Hasbro and Sideshow Collectibles.

Ray’s hobby of pumpkin sculpting was brought to an entirely new level in 2007 when he was contacted by High Noon Entertainment and asked to participate in the Food Network’s Challenge Show Outrageous Pumpkins. Ray competed as one of four professional pumpkin sculptors, impressed the judges enough to sweep all three rounds, and was awarded the Grand Prize. Outrageous Pumpkins logged the highest ratings of any other Challenge episode, and a second invitation was extended to Ray in 2009. They wanted him to come back and defend his title in their Outrageous Pumpkins Challenge II. Ray defended his 2008 title and took home the 2010 Grand Prize from the Food Network’s Pumpkin Challenge II.

The exposure of Ray’s style, talent and creativity amassed an all-new appreciation for pumpkin carving, and his artistic take on the traditional jack-o- lantern has granted him invitations from across the globe for VIP Galleries (Very Impressive Pumpkins). From the President’s quarters in the White House to Bermuda’s Sousa’s Gardens, Ray’s pumpkins have gathered a cult-like following. Perhaps some of his art work will inspire your next pumpkin carving design.

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