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Valley artist carves out his niche on pumpkins

By MARY ANN GREIER

Salem News

SALEM — Salem resident Ron Roberts has carved out a creative hobby that attracts a lot of attention this time of year.

These aren’t the pumpkins the kids used to carve with triangle eyes and a jagged mouth.

“I saw some elaborate pumpkins online five or six years ago and thought I could do that, so I tried it,” he said.

His first elaborate pumpkin carving featured the world’s most famous vampire, Dracula.

“I just thought it was dramatic looking,” he said.

Since then, Roberts has become a sought-after demonstrator in the pumpkin-carving artistry. This weekend, he’ll be participating at events in Mill Creek Park and Whitehouse Frfuit Farm.

At 2 p.m. Oct. 19, he’ll be appearing for a Go Wild in the Park program on pumpkin carving at Salem Public Library.

Closer to Halloween, he’ll be traveling to Cleveland for weekend demonstrations at a nightclub near the West Side Market called Town Hall. For the event last year, Roberts said he used a foam pumpkin to carve a portrait of Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns, which was a big hit. The next day, he carved another Baker Mayfield portrait in a real pumpkin. Mayfield’s fiancee, now his wife, happened to come in and bought them both.

This year, he and his son Ben plan to work on a creation using three pumpkins and timed lights so it appears that Mayfield is passing the ball to Odell Beckham Jr.

Just three years ago, he won first place as an amateur in Jack Hanna’s pumpkin carving contest at the Columbus Zoo, working on large pumpkins weighing 200 to 300 pounds.

Roberts carves two types of pumpkins, jack-o-lanterns, which involve removing the guts and installing lights, and 3-D pumpkins which are more like sculptures done on a solid pumpkin. He received no formal training and attributed his creations to a lot of trial and error. In Columbus, he met artist Ray Villafane, who’s known by everybody in the pumpkin carving world for his elaborate 3-D pumpkin creations, and he shared some tips.

When picking out a pumpkin for 3-D carving, Roberts advised the heavier it is, the thicker it is and that’s what’s preferable. Also look for pumpkins with solid stems. He starts out scraping off the skin and then carving in shapes, cutting deeply into the pumpkin to start working on the detail and the contrast of shadows.

“Don’t worry about making mistakes. Super glue works on pumpkins,” he said with a grin.

The tools of the trade are pottery tools, tools for sculpting. He uses a lot of ribbon tools of various sizes for putting in shapes and then a sharp knife for detail. His toolbox includes several knives.

To help preserve a real pumpkin, Roberts said it’s best to keep it moist and cool, spray it with some bleach cleaner since bacteria is what breaks it down. A sealant can be used at times or a fruit freshener.

His advice for pumpkin carving is simple — don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

“Try things, if it shows promise, do it again. That’s how you learn,” he said.

Professionally, he’s a mechanical engineer who’s now semi-retired and spends a lot of time on his art hobbies. His wife, Terri, works as the administrative assistant to the Salem schools superintendent. He and Terri have two sons, Ben and Dan. His basement has been turned into his workshop.