Bill Fox is a pumpkin artist, top-seeded no less. He makes carving bizarre characters out of the stout vegetable look easy as pie.
When he gazes upon a pumpkin, he sees more than just another pretty face. He sees a Frankenstein, a Darth Vader, or maybe Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie.
Fox, a Ventura College biology professor, has been sculpting pumpkins for about 20 years. He does it for fun. But he's so good at it, he's crafted his own tools over the years as well as a style that's, well, out of this world.
Fox will be demonstrating his pumpkin prowess at San Buenaventura State Beach in Ventura during a three-day Halloween celebration put on by Ventura's Park and Recreation Department.
The celebration runs from 5 p.m. Oct. 26 to 10 p.m. Oct. 28. Fox will be carving from noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 27 and 28.
His long love affair with the pumpkin began when his three grown children were small and he made the annual trek to the pumpkin patch for just the right pumpkin.
"It's fall, the air is crisp, it's a great family outing," he said.
His children may have outgrown the seasonal jaunt, but Fox never did. Each year, he looks forward to Halloween with unabashed delight. He begins haunting pumpkin patches.
"He spends hours combing the patches looking for just the right ones," said his wife, Sally, who joins him in his pursuit.
"I always look for the bizarre," he said. His favorites are those pumpkins afflicted with a virus that transforms them into warty, nubby, misshapen blobs.
He carves about 20 pumpkins a year, decorating his Ojai house and office. He gives some away. By the end of the season, he figures that he's spent $50 or $75 on pumpkins.
Fox strives for the zany. He once transformed a 40-pound pumpkin into Jabba the Hut of "Star Wars" fame. The face, described by Fox as "the ugliest mass of blubber and flesh," was his masterpiece.
He recently demonstrated his talents in the kitchen of his house. On the counter sat a couple of spooks he had done the night before--Frankenstein's monster, complete with bolts sticking out of his head, and the bride of Frankenstein, created from a long banana squash.
His main tool is a three-inch-long kitchen knife that he filed down to a very narrow blade.
"I see people with great big blades, and that just won't work," he said. He cut out the top of the pumpkin using an irregular cut so the piece would fit better.
He scooped out the inside of a squat pumpkin and set the seeds aside to be roasted later for 20 minutes in a 300-degree oven. While he worked, his bull terrier, Pumpkin, snoozed on the floor. A pie, pumpkin, of course, cooled on the counter.
With the precision of a jeweler, he quickly carved the face of a grinning Cheshire cat. For eyes, nose and ears, he used an assortment of leather punches he has collected over the years.
Carving pumpkins is more popular than ever, according to Fox. There are carving contests--even an underwater competition for divers.
How the jack-o'-lantern practice came to be is still the subject of some speculation. Fox said the most likely explanation is that the frightening faces were believed to scare off demons and goblins on the eve of All Souls' Day.
Apparently it works at his house, set deep inside a wooded acre. Sometimes on Halloween he positions a collection of spooks, phantoms, gnomes, trolls and ghouls by the gate to his yard. He gets few visitors looking for a trick or treat.
WHERE AND WHEN
Pumpkin carver Bill Fox will be carving them up at the Halloween celebration at San Buenaventura State Beach in Ventura. The festival, sponsored by Ventura's Park and Recreation Department, runs Oct. 26 to 28. Fox will carve from noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 27 and 28.