The Pumpkin Diorama Project: 14 Years of Ghoulish Gourds
During the week of Halloween each year, I dress up a pumpkin. Not as a pumpkin…I dress up the pumpkin itself. I find pumpkins to be the perfect vessels for fleshing out a scene.
Over the past dozen years I’ve been inspired by three themes: amusement parks, twisted fairy tales, and ghoulish vices. I compiled some highlights here.
I tend to spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about it, collecting materials from thrift and art supplies stores, and then finally creating the scene every year. I’m more interested in props and scenery than I am in actually carving the pumpkin. You’ll notice many of my gourds have a simple hole cut out, and the story is depicted inside it.
Maybe this is a result of the one year when I spent six hours carving a pumpkin into a merry-go-round, painting it, only to have the pumpkin almost collapse on itself (I saved it by reinforcing it with dozens of nails).
When my daughter was three, she was terrified of the wicked stepmother from Snow White. So it was a joy for me that year to put “that mean lady into the pumpkin” as a creepy but harmless tarot card reader.
I wish I had a better picture of this. It’s Peter Pumpkin Eater’s wife’s side of the story. It included a long poem that I unfortunately can’t find, detailing how she planned her escape from the pumpkin prison. Scenery includes curtains, a table, a smoking chimney, and a plant in the window.
Here’s another twisted tale: Cinderella meets the Headless Horseman. As you can see, the “horseman” is a decapitated Ken doll, holding Cinderella’s slipper. Again, some “poetry” to introduce the scene. (Added fun to be living in a bright orange house at the time.)
The Magic 8-Ball pumpkin was challenging but we came up with a great plan. I started with a white pumpkin, painted it, and then filled a balloon with glycerin. Inside the balloon was a foam square with brief fortunes on all sides. Just shake the pumpkin, and a new fortune floats to the top.
This Freaky Tiki Tavern was inspired after a trip to Hawaii the previous summer.
The 2014 pumpkin: Introducing Madame Zalameda, crystal ball fortune teller. I combined a claw machine with an amusement-park-style fortune telling machine (inspired by Zoltar).
Step right up and claw your way to your own fortune. Each fortune envelope contains a small prize and a glimpse into your future. (On Halloween, I figured the trick-or-treaters would not want to spend the frustrating time required to use the claw machine, so I just put all the fortunes in a bucket next to the pumpkin.)
Pumpkin for 2015: My favorite pumpkin yet is Ghoulie’s Pier & Cafe. The sand actually came from North Carolina. I used paper mache for the water. It took about five days to make.
The 2016 pumpkin was the Sweet Suite, a magical mobile food cart where you can order any dessert you want. It features a chutes-&-ladders system of getting into the shop. (Or an invisible elevator appears when you snap your fingers.)
I adored the pumpkin from 2017: The 1965-style camper trailer. After much deliberation in a pumpkin patch trying to find the ideal trailer-shaped gourd, the real fun began. I had found all sorts of miniature kitchen decor at an estate sale earlier that year, and I finally found the perfect use for the pieces. I cut some aspen branches as firewood and created a camp fire out of hot glue; sewed a tent out of shiny orange fabric; created some benches from an old strawberry container; assembled and stained a picnic bench from popsicle sticks; installed a wood floor; sewed some pillows; organized a course of desserts on the cozy kitchen table inside; created windows and sewed curtains; and cut a screen door from scrap metal. (The only thing I forgot was a miniature game of Trivial Pursuit!)
Pumpkin 2018 is in the works, and it’s going to be awesome.