John Musnicki

Posted on 30 October 2008

The website, logo, ad designer and master of pumpkin carving on the secrets to carving a great pumpkin, and why imperfect pumpkins are perfect.

We know that you have been a huge advocate for of the pumpkin carving contest of the lions club in Bridgehampton, When did you start getting really involved pumpkin carving?
I always liked it as a child. I lived in the city and I went to school in Philadelphia; an arts school and I got a degree in industrial design and took a lot of creative electives. I guess that’s a good base, but my whole family is creative, so anything we do tends to be unique and sometimes over the top depending on what we do, we never really got into this crazy form of carving – but Halloween was always important in the family. I decided to move back from the city to here, 15 years ago. My wife and I decided to get married, and I didn’t want to do it in the city, so we decided to do it in Bridgehampton, which was home for me, and ironically home for my wife. So we came back here. So the first fall we spent here, was getting a little boring already so we thought we needed to get something going on – so we decided to have this carving party with all our friends that we made, and we did several years in a row. And we had prizes and we had categories and every year we would tweak them, so for four or five years, we did this. There was this guy who used the stem for a nose, and I thought that was really cool – so that was what set it off for me – I never thought about how much you could do with a pumpkin if you really got creative. So being a creative person I thought, jeez, the sky’s the limit now……so every year I had this elaborate contraption that I put forth and that’s how I got into it. That contest that we had as a personal party – ended up sort of giving me the time to do something cool every year.
For someone who may not know what to look for in a pumpkin, what advice can you give that person when trying to find a pumpkin that will make for a great carving or design?
Funny, one of the things that I would say is that over time, you get this sensitivity and you have to look past things, I’m a designer locally, I do mostly visual marketing – websites – branding and things like that so I think you have to have a sensitivity that comes with experience. You hone your skills, your materials and process, you know the tools you get to use, the materials the pumpkin, the gords, that’s only part of it. There are two approaches to doing a really cool pumpkin. One is you have an idea and you go find your materials. Or you can let this pumpkin -this one you are forced to use – speak to you. I flip it upside down – I flip it sideways – I think about it cut in half. It’s not just sitting straight up with its top cut off. I just think – I can’t go there – not anymore. So you look at this pumpkin and you start seeing character. And I’ll see a little bump – okay that’s an eyeball bulging out, I see a bump on the side – that’s a check then I can maybe see a mouth. So I like messed up pumpkins. I always look for those. In fact, historically, my father had a pumpkin patch and what I have been forced to do is – I would take the left overs and I would bring them to my carving party and I would just have them there for people to use. But by default, I’ve been getting the messed-up pumpkins the ones nobody wanted. And now – when I look – I search for those messed-up pumpkins, because those are the ones with the most character. And I’ve done this for CMEE [The Children’s Museum of the East End] and I did it for my three children – I have three children in grade school – and I go into their classroom and carve, and I get them to decide what works. And ask them, what’s that pumpkin saying to you?
If it’s too perfect I don’t know what to do with it.

For this year’s pumpkin carving contest in Bridgehampton, I see you have quite a variety of categories, like mothergroosome, pulp politico and sea screecher, how do you come up with these categories? And how do you decide which ones will stay and which will go the following year?

This is probably the most fun that I have, because I also enlist a lot of friends. I have a lot of creative friends out here, and I will tell them that I need a theme for sports or something and they are all aware that it has to be kind of clever, and I like the open-endness of these categories. One category this year was called punk-a-licious. This is something my wife and daughter came up with. They helped me with the name. And now I’m thinking pink, ribbons and make-up but the winners were the ones who did punk rockers. These punk-rockers with piercings! And I didn’t even think of that – which is what I love about that. That’s what I tell the judges – to keep an open mind. Look at how they determine the answer. One year I needed a category for faces. So I created a category called nice mug. So for two years I’ve been putting faces in the category ‘nice mug’, next to the ‘classic jack’ category and one year somebody carved a candy kitchen mug and won first prize. So then the following year I didn’t want a bunch of mugs so I cancelled that category. But that’s a great example of what can happen. And for classic jack, I think it was my sister, she did a portrait of Jack Nicholson from The Shining and that won. So there is even creativeness in some of the classic jacks. The categories are the lead-in for all this creativity. So the material can help them think of something. If you just give a person a pumpkin they may say – now where do I go? But if you give them something to target, it will help you. To me it’s the most creative part of doing this event. I do this for the Lions Club, but it is also an extension of my personal love, it has the same thing. I had categories that were created like the most aerodynamic, and people will say, that’s cool. What do we do for that? Actually that’s probably a good one to bring back! I’ve retired so many categories – because every year I get rid of three or four and add three or five new ones, and people love it. They will stop me on the street asking, what are the categories? But I just say you have to check the website because that’s how you find out. In fact I have a mystery category on the website and that was ‘toss your seeds’. That was actually one of the funniest categories this year.
So do you judge along with the Lions Club, who makes the final decisions?
I would love to judge, but my kids are in it so no I don’t, maybe in the future I would judge. But right now I have to rely on judges I’ve had throughout the years. I usually have a fifth judge, I have four people that attend every year, but then I have a fifth person that comes in as a guest judge, because if I didn’t there would be ties. And they are very enthusiastic, some people collect antique Halloween memorabilia and the local florist’s Jim and Michael have been there since the very beginning and they put on a great display at their house at home in Sag Harbor and they have been doing that for years. So I make sure I pick people that are really into it. And Babara, who collects the memorabilia, is very enthusiastic and again I could have anyone in my family doing it, but there is too much of a conflict. In fact I don’t enter my carvings, ever, I don’t want to be labeled as somebody who is taking advantage of a situation.

So of all the holidays throughout the year, what would you say is your favorite?
I was just thinking that on my way home yesterday, I guess Halloween obviously is, yeah.

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