The art of pumpkin carving

Reader's Digest Editors

Meet the two schoolfriends who’ve elevated their Halloween jack-o-lantern carving hobby into an art form.

Carving a pumpkin with a scary face, illuminated by a light from within, is an increasingly popular way for families to celebrate the festival of Halloween on 31 October. But for New Yorkers Marc Evans and Chris Soria, pumpkin carving has become a passion, a business and even an art form, worthy of display at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

“This will be our ninth year attempting to recreate one of the masterpieces on display at the museum,” Evans says. “It’s always an incredible challenge but also an honour to keep the MoMA tradition going strong."

pumpkin carving as an art form

“We’re really interested in elevating the art of pumpkin carving. The pumpkins take on this incredibly lifelike, almost holographic appearance because of the translucent flesh and the way the light passes through the carved layers.”

Evans and Soria, both 39, have been friends since they met at middle school, 28 years ago. They both attended the Parsons School of Design in New York City, before beginning their individual careers as artists. “We’ve been making art together now for over 25 years,” Evans says. “We are probably each other’s biggest fans. We are brothers.”

At high school, he explains, “We were both the weird art kids. We could hang with the nerds, jocks and everyone in between. But we definitely bonded over art and geek culture. We were both really into Star Wars and horror movies. And we were always drawing and painting with a very healthy level of competition.”

a pumpkin carved in the image of Edvard Munch's The Scream

Every year they would carve Halloween pumpkins to entertain their school friends. “It’s both a long-running tradition and also an ephemeral art, because the work itself is perishable. There’s very little you can do to preserve the pumpkin. People talk about techniques like putting Vaseline on the cut areas, or spraying it with lemon juice. The best way is just to take a picture.”

"The pumpkins take on this incredibly lifelike, almost holographic appearance"

They continued the tradition when, as struggling young artists, they were working in bars and restaurants to make ends meet. They gave themselves the name “Maniac Pumpkin Carvers” and started putting photographs of their favourite designs on a photo-streaming website. This drew online magazine coverage that went viral and ten years ago work began pouring in.

pumpkins carved to look like various famous paintings

“The New York Yankees ordered 50 pumpkins for game one of the 2009 baseball World Series. We had roughly 36 hours to do the job. It forced us to step up our game and realise the potential of a pumpkin carving business.”

A decade later, the Brooklyn-based Maniac Pumpkin Carvers are thriving. “We create hundreds of carved pumpkins a year,” Evans says. Prices range from $150 to $800, depending on the size of the pumpkin and the complexity of the design.

"The fact that we still get to basically play and have fun creating, just like when we were kids, is crazy"

The Maniacs can carve almost anything into a pumpkin, from movie characters and even personal portraits to corporate logos and personal messages­—“Will You Marry Me?” is a common request.

Through it all, the one constant has been the friendship between Evans and Soria. “The fact that we still get to basically play and have fun creating, just like when we were kids, is crazy. There is no job security in what we do. So we have to continually do our best and stay fresh. But getting to make art for a living is a dream come true.”

a pumpkin with intricate dove carving

For anyone carving a Halloween pumpkin at home this year, Evans has the following advice: “We recommend drawing out an idea first. A little planning can go a long way. And keep your work surface clean. Things can get messy quick and you don’t want to lose track of where sharp knives or other tools are. 

“Other than that, it’s important to have fun. It’s a great way to celebrate the harvest, Halloween, pop culture and more. Pumpkin carving is a wonderful tradition that everyone should take part in.”

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter