Unlike the flavoring and scent of pumpkin spice, which is always in demand each fall, the talent that sculptor Ray Villafane brings to his artistic craft is not something that is seasonal. It can be enjoyed all year long.
Arguably the greatest pumpkin carver of all time, Villafane might be known best for the seasonal gourds he shapes into incredibly detailed creations, but his heart lies with any organic material – from wood to clay to potatoes – that he can carve into something fantastic.
“It’s my life’s mission to show people that you can make stuff from ordinary objects and natural materials,” Villafane told Remezcla during a recent interview. “I love playing and discovering new things.”
Originally from Queens, Villafane graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1991. For more than a decade after, he worked as a K-12 art teacher in Michigan before turning to sculpting full time when his unmatched skills as a pumpkin carver put him in the national spotlight circa 2006. Martha Stewart even referred to him as “the Michelangelo of pumpkin carving.”
“There is a magical history behind the pumpkin,” Villafane said. “When I bring a 3-D face to it, it comes to life. It emotes. I like to infuse magic into objects that normally wouldn’t have it.”
Since breaking out into the mainstream, Villafane has worked as a sculptor with several companies, including DC Comics, Warner Bros., McFarlane Toys, Hasbro, Bowen Designs, and Blizzard Entertainment. Soon after, the Food Network reached out to him to participate in TV series like Food Network Challenge, Halloween Wars, and most recently as a judge on Outrageous Pumpkins.
“My stuff has a Halloween vibe, but I think a lot of my work transcends that,” he said. “To be honest, I’m not even really into Halloween. I don’t even watch TV. Ironically, here I am making stuff that finds its way into pop culture.”
Between all his pumpkin carving commissions, Villafane has found time to put his scalpel to other organic materials like sand, snow, wood, and other vegetables. His most recent creation is a table-top clay sculpture of an elephant playing chess with a mouse.
His clay sculptures are something he hopes will soon lead him into producing his very first stop-motion animated short film. Over the last 17 years working as a full-time sculptor, Villafane has realized how much he enjoys making storytelling an integral part of his artwork. Many of his recent ideas have come to him while spending time exploring the natural world. He loves taking materials like branches and rocks and creating something that he doesn’t have to necessarily “force [his] will upon.”
“There’s nothing more satisfying to me than being outdoors,” he said. “I love getting lost in the wilderness. My collaboration with Mother Nature is one of my favorite avenues to create art. It’s like finding gemstones. The universe delivers it. That aspect brings me to a very spiritual part of my work.”