The Pumpkin Diorama Project: 12 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).

Carousel

A lesson in physics: carve less open space next time.

Top view of the pumpkin merry-go-round

Top view of the pumpkin merry-go-round

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.

The Wicked Stepmother is trapped in a fortune telling booth.

The Wicked Stepmother is trapped in a fortune telling booth.

My daughter now thought the evil lady was funny, and no longer scary.

My daughter now thought the evil lady was funny, and no longer scary.

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.

Peter Pumpkin Eater's wife actually had an escape plan in this twisted tale.

Peter Pumpkin Eater’s wife actually had an escape plan in this twisted tale.

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.)

CinderHorseman

The headless horseman might appear to be steering the chariot, but look who's got the reins.

The headless horseman might appear to be steering the chariot, but look who’s got the reins.

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.

Magic 8-ball actually that actually works!

Magic 8-ball that actually works!

A new fortune floats to the top with each shake of the gourd.

A fortune floats to the top with each shake of the gourd. It says “Perhaps.”

This Freaky Tiki Tavern was inspired after a trip to Hawaii the previous summer.

I used a pineapple and a wicker basket to fashion the rooftop.

I used a pineapple and a wicker basket to fashion the rooftop.

Glow-in-the-dark creatures feast inside....

Glow-in-the-dark creatures feast inside….

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 get your fortune from Madame Zalameda.

Step right up and get your fortune from Madame Zalameda.

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.)

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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.

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The 2016 pumpkin is the Sweet Suite, a magical place 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.)

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