It’s remarkable what a humble gourd, in the right hands, can become. The fun family pastime of pumpkin carving for Halloween has been raised to an art form by renowned Southern California sculptor and designer Jon Neill, who every year turns out dozens of intricately carved jack-o-lanterns sporting the most outlandish and expressive faces imaginable. He brings select pieces of his pumpkin portfolio, along with his talent, to the Oxnard Farmers Market on Thursday, Oct. 29.
Neill will treat shoppers to a live demonstration, taking a fresh, whole pumpkin and transforming it into an extraordinary sculpture. Spectators will see firsthand his techniques, tricks and tools — which they can apply to their own jack-o-lanterns. There will also be some discussion on how to preserve your Halloween masterpiece. To wrap up the event, Neill’s expertly carved pumpkin will be auctioned off.
Neill’s expertise extends beyond the pumpkin patch. He’s worked in Hollywood for years as an illustrator, creature creator and prop and costume designer. Pumpkin carving is just one of his many talents, although this particular pursuit has taken on a life of its own. Neill gained national recognition in 2014 when he, along with teammates Kyle Miller and Briea Nathan, won season 4 of Food Network’s Halloween Wars. His work is featured in “Rise of the Jack-O-Lanterns” at Descanso Gardens and the Montrose Trick or Treat Spooktacular. The renowned food artist (he also works in butter, cheese and chocolate) keeps busy year-round creating edible sculptures for private and corporate events and global marketing campaigns. “It’s incredible, the stuff he’s done,” says Gary Blum, committee chairman for the Oxnard Farmers Market. “When we reached out to him, we didn’t think he’d do it.” Despite a packed fall schedule, Neill found time to put Oxnard on his calendar.
Blum admits that a midweek event during the day isn’t likely to gain the biggest crowd, but he hopes young families and downtown Oxnard workers will show up for the festivities. “We’re trying to encourage people to come out on their lunch break,” Blum says. The market will bring in extra tables to accommodate those who grab a nosh at one of the food trucks, and set up a coloring tent for kids. Those inspired by Neill’s demonstration can pick up their own carving pumpkins from a local grower.
The jack-o-lantern is one of the most enduring symbols of Halloween. With a little guidance from the gourd guru himself, anyone can turn a seasonal squash into an impressive decoration that trick-or-treaters are sure to remember long after the candy’s gone. Let the carving begin!
The Jon Neill pumpkin carving demonstration will take place on Thursday, Oct. 29, in Oxnard’s Plaza Park from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, call 247-0197 or check out the Oxnard Farmers Market on Facebook.