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Format: 04/21/2014
Format: 04/21/2014


Washington Observer-Reporter: Pumpkin carver is master of his craft

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

by Patricia Van Horn 

One family goes all out on Halloween night in Cecil Township's Pristine Fields neighborhood.
For that one night, the Popko family decorates their front yard with more than 100 glowing carved pumpkins that are incredible works of art.

Likenesses of George Washington to SpongeBob SquarePants to traditional goblins and bats radiate from the yard. Unforgettable pumpkins made to look like images from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" to a climbing Spiderman greet trick or treaters and curious neighbors.

Although each is different, all have been meticulously created out of hollow, hardfoam craft pumpkins by homeowner Brian Popko. He carved his first - a house with ghosts popping their heads out the windows - about 10 years ago.

"I don't know what gave me the idea to do this but my guess is that I probably saw one carved in a Michael's (craft) store and said that I think I could do that," said Popko. "I got a pattern book and kind of took it from there."

While that first one was fairly easy, the pumpkins have since become more complex. Now Popko not only uses patterns from a craft book but also blueprints he has found on the Internet. He modifies that which may not at first seem to work as a pumpkin carving.

"I now have 120 pumpkins and growing," Popko said. "I plan to have at least another eight to 10 done by Halloween."

This year, Popko carved Super Bowl and Stanley Cup pumpkins to reflect the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Penguins, as well as three other sports themes. He also plans to tackle a carving of the big brain alien from the movie "Mars Attack."

All of the pumpkins are kept in a nearby storage unit and brought out for the big event. The moving and set-up process begins early in the morning and isn't completed until almost the start of trick-or-treat, Popko said.

Everyone helps, including wife Stacey, and 7-year-old son, Ben. Even his parents, Christine and Robert, pitch in.

"It's quite the family project on Halloween," Popko said.


The pumpkins are grouped by category - cartoon, patriotic, sports and traditional Halloween - and then placed outside. Totes in which the pumpkins are stored are turned over, draped with black plastic tablecloths and used as the surface on which the pumpkins are displayed in the front yard.
"That was my mother's idea," he said. "We've been doing it like that for many years. We had individual plant stands before that but it got too many to have."

Multiple extension cords are needed to ensure each pumpkin is lit. The result is a must-see attraction on Sundial Drive.

"We keep the display up until there is just a trickle of people since it takes a couple of hours to take it all back down," said Stacey.

Marcy Ventura lives next door to the Popko family. She enjoys the display and is always anxious to see the new additions each year. One of her favorites is "baby's first pumpkin" which features a teddy bear placing its paws on a smiling jack-o-lantern.

"It's an impressive Halloween pumpkin display," Ventura said. "They do so much work and it looks so nice."

Popko begins carving the pumpkins in late August. He begins by cutting a hole in the top for the lid. A tiny poker tool, found in pumpkin carving kits, is used in following the dots of the pattern attached to the pumpkin.

"Once you get all the holes punched in, it looks like a big jumble mess of dots," Popko said. "The trick is to make sure that once you do the dots, you save the pattern. Then hold the pattern up next to the pumpkin and try to piece together which dots go to which section to cut. If you don't save the pattern, you are doomed and you will never figure it out."

He cuts out the design using a standard operating room surgical scalpel. That's where he makes use of his full-time job as medical director of the emergency room at Allegheny General Hospital's Bellevue campus.

"Instead of getting real jagged edges, it makes a nice smooth cut on it," he said. "It makes the pattern show up so much better."

When carving, he works from the middle of the pattern toward the outside, which is especially useful with some of the more intricate patterns.

When tiny pieces break off, as they sometimes do, Popko will use glue to piece them back together.

To read more, visit the Washington Observer-Reporter web site.

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