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As easy as pie

Expert in pumpkin carving shows his skills for passersby. He prepares about 200 a year.

October 27, 2010|By Britney Barnes, britney.barnes@latimes.com
  • Gene Granata, a master pumpkin carver, gives carving demonstrations at Surf City Nights in Huntington Beach.
Gene Granata, a master pumpkin carver, gives carving… (Scott Smeltzer,…)

The image of the Mona Lisa, a wolf and a sinister skeleton's face were illuminated from within the thick-skinned pumpkins they were carved on, drawing in passersby.

A crowd started to form around the small booth as Gene Granata, a master carver, began preparing a beach-ball-sized orange gourd shaped like a flying saucer for his last demonstration of the night.

"You again," Granata said with a laugh, to a tall teenager standing right up against the booth in the corner watching intently. "You know what I'm doing."

Dimas Sandovao, 13, grinned and continued to watch with rapt attention as Granata used his various tools to clean out the pumpkin Tuesday evening during Surf City Nights on Main Street.

Granata has been carving professionally for the last 15 years and does about 200 pumpkins a year, using both real and artificial ones.

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"It's a hobby on steroids," he said.

With the first few blocks of Main Streets roped off for vendors to sell their wares on the street and residents and visitors perusing the goods and checking out street entertainers, Granata gave carving demonstrations, dispensed tips and answered questions of the carving curious.

Dimas was one of the most curious patrons of the night, watching every demonstration for the better part of four hours.

Carving pumpkins is all new to Dimas, who has never celebrated an American Halloween before.

The Carson City resident came to the U.S. in March from El Salvador and saw his first jack-o'-lantern during the demonstrations. In El Salvador, they don't really celebrate Halloween other than to hide in the streets and scare people, said his older sister Yeni Gonzalez.

"That's why he is so excited," she said. "It's something new for him to see."

Dimas said he is going to go trick-or-treating for his first Halloween and may try to carve a pumpkin. He said it looks hard, but he wants to carve his face onto one.

While watching Granata, Dimas said he liked the scary designs best — the wolf and skeleton caught his eye.

"I like the most ugly ones," he said.

Dimas wasn't the only one intrigued by the master carver. The crowd swelled as he made a geometric-designed pumpkin using marbles and different shapes.

Children crowded right up against his booth, hands and elbows on the table, assisting Granata and collecting pumpkin scraps, which they dutifully took to Mom to keep safe.

Elementary-school-aged Mikel Niedergerke said she liked the marble idea best, but her younger brother Johan was most impressed with the power tools. Johan said he liked the pumpkin gutter, a kind of egg beater/electric drill hybrid Granata used to thin the rind of the pumpkin before carving.

The two, on a family vacation for the week from Denver, Colo., are getting ready to carve their own jack-o'lanterns Saturday, a tradition they do every year, said dad Thom Niedergerke.

"We like scary pumpkins the best," Niedergerke said.

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Get pumpkin carving tips and tricks at http://www.masterpiecepumpkins.com.

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