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Master sculptor Ray Villafane offers behind-the-scenes look at Carefree’s Enchanted Pumpkin Garden


Tara Alatorre

CAREFREE – Carefree just kicked off its second annual Enchanted Pumpkin Garden. This free, one-of-a-kind fall festival features the world-renowned master sculptor Ray Villafane’s whimsical pumpkin carvings, and a new unveiling of life-sized scarecrows, which weave through four acres of Sonoran Desert.

The festival runs from now until Oct. 31, in the town center at the Carefree Desert Gardens from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, and will include family carving nights with Villafane, pumpkin vignettes, pickled 3D carvings displayed in cacti, scarecrows, kids crafts, a pumpkin pie eating contest, craft beer gardens, food trucks, and trick-or-treating on Halloween night.

The Foothills Focus got an exclusive behind-the-scenes look inside the artist’s studio last Friday, as Villafane and his small team of artists prepared for the opening day, transforming regular pumpkins into magical, playful characters, giving life to each gourd by meticulously staging every artful detail.

New to this year’s display is the addition of hand crafted, life-sized scarecrows made with organic material found in the desert such as dried twigs and shrubs, bringing a scarecrow versus pumpkins theme, adding a bit more edge compared to last year’s display.

“If you want to bring the city of Phoenix here, you got to give them a little bit of everything,” said Villafane in an interview last Friday.

Villafane is working on a scarecrow with eerily realistic eyes set in its burlap skull, another artist carves away at a pumpkin that is starting to resemble the great Mohammed Ali, and meanwhile workers buzz around him like elves in Santa’s demented workshop, gathering costumes and props.

“The scarecrows hunt the pumpkins for their magical seeds,” he says while explaining the inspiration for this year’s Enchanted Pumpkin Garden. “The scarecrows take the seeds and make all sorts of elixirs and tonics, and it helps them stay alive.”

Because pumpkins are perishable, Villafane started developing the idea of adding scarecrows to his internationally acclaimed pumpkin carvings vignettes, which have been featured from Hong Kong to the White House, pushing the boundaries to his Halloween art. Then, last year at the closing of the Carefree Enchanted Pumpkin Garden, he made a quick scarecrow body with a pumpkin head and it sealed the deal for him.

“That’s when I knew, we need to explore this more, and I was already in talks with your town gardens…and as the year went I just started pouring myself into the scarecrows a little bit more,” Villafane said.

This is the first year he has featured scarecrows, and the only places Villafane has displayed them is the New York City Botanical Gardens, the Mall of America, and the Carefree Desert Gardens. His team will also carve 11, pickled 3-D pumpkins, displayed in tanks resembling saguaros, which is exclusive to Carefree, and has not been featured anywhere else in the United States.

Carefree’s Enchanted Pumpkin Garden conveys a whimsical Halloween spirit that is unexpected in the small desert town, bringing a quintessential fall flavor to the Valley that will make you want to wear a scarf and cozy sweater, despite the persistent 90 degree weather. You do not want to miss this spectacular event that could easily put the Valley of the Sun on the map as a national Halloween destination, putting a Western spin on autumn traditions.

For more information and event highlights on the Carefree Enchanted Pumpkin Garden, go online to http://carefreepumpkingarden.com.