When I first heard the name “Maniac Pumpkin Carvers” I wasn’t hopeful. I pictured a group of deranged Halloween enthusiasts more taken with the spirit of the holiday than the art of pumpkin carving. After viewing their astonishing work and learning of their reputation (the work and reputation of partners Marc Evans and Chris Soria), I not only changed my opinion; I wanted to change their company name, too. Something like Pumpkin Carving Design, LLC or Carving Solutions Unlimited to more appropriately convey the level of technical skill so evident in their work (and differentiate them from the loony decorators often associated with holiday artwork).
Eventually, I saw the significance in the name “Maniac Pumpkin Carvers.” That moment came during the premier of Food Network’s “Halloween Wars”, a four-episode contest featuring five, three person teams consisting of a cake decorator, a candy maker, and a pumpkin carver. The Maniacs’ national pedigree was affirmed when Chris Soria landed a spot as the carving expert for one of the five teams, The Abyss, and the chance to compete for the $50,000 prize (no word on why Soria was chosen over Evans). For those who haven’t seen it, check your remotes at 8pm on Sundays. Judge Shinmin Li’s criticism is bitingly frosty (and unintentionally entertaining), while Soria is paired with a volatile cake decorator. Luckily, his cool demeanor has helped them advance to the next round.
As I watched Soria and his equally-acclaimed peers construct an edible wicked witch and then an intricately designed, large-scaled haunted scene in a limited amount of time, I realized one has to be a little wacky to be in the field of food art. Otherwise, they would choose a more traditional medium. Suddenly, “Maniac Pumpkin Carvers” sounded like a winning name, and I no longer felt like Halloween’s version of the Grinch.
Though the organically-based structures produced on “Halloween Wars” are true pieces of art, especially given the time constraints, the show doesn’t quite capture the complete genius of Soria and Evans’ work. The maniacs, who’ve known each other since they were twelve and have been carving since they were fifteen, rely on electric lighting and detailed shading to highlight their crisp, almost computer-like images. When given the appropriate amount of time, their carvings look more like paintings, photographs, or even stickers – a quality missing so far on the show.
The maniacs practice a new school of pumpkin carving. They slice only slightly into the skin of the pumpkin, preserving the round shape and enhancing the painting-like effect. Furthermore, instead of the traditional, nondescript cats and ghosts, Soria and Evans can recreate specific monsters. Or they can produce something entirely non-Halloween related, such as the order of 50 World Series pumpkins requested by a Yankees executive last year. In creating specific logos like the World Series insignia, the neatness of the maniacs’ work creates a startling contrast to the pumpkin in which it is carved.
I only question one of the maniacs’ methods: their use of electric lighting. In combination with their ultra-modern approach, the plug-in light feels wrong. With highly specialized art such as this, I think customers expect a certain level of old-school craft – a personal touch. What better way to restore the craftsman’s charm with a candle in the center of such a modern creation?
Even with the electric lighting, the work of the Maniac Pumpkin Carvers is a true find and appropriate for all seasons. Own one for up to $200 (and up to two weeks), look for Maniac pumpkins around Long Island and the city, or follow Chris Soria and The Abyss as they vie for the $50,000 prize on Halloween Wars. Either way, one thing is clear - carved holiday artwork, when put in the hands of pros like Evans and Soria, is actually pretty cool.
This Article was Written by Scott Bickard.
For more information on Maniac Pumpkin Carvers, and to see some of their awesome pumpkins - check out thier site. Photo Credit: Maniac Pumpkin Carvers Facebook Page.
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