Pat Harrison is a professional pumpkin sculptor
By Rick Coates 10/26/09
Carver Pat Harrison from Cedar is nicknamed The Lord of the Gourd. This time of the year he finds himself in high demand. But Harrison is more than just a pumpkin carver; hence his nickname. He is now known all over the state and travels to all parts giving carving demonstrations. He took time from his busy schedule to answer questions about life as a professional pumpkin sculptor.
NE: How did you get started?
Harrison: By accident. I was attempting to carve a pumpkin late at night back in the mid 90s and I slipped with a knife and cut a hunk off the pumpkin. I thought it was ruined until I started hacking more chunks off it and realized I was onto something.
NE: So had you seen other pumpkin carvers before?
Harrison: Not up to that point. I had never seen anyone else carve that way, but now there are many pumpkin sculptors out there, some of them incredibly talented.
NE: Who up north do you put in that category?
Harrison: In this area we have Ed Moody from Frankfort who does giant pumpkins, and Ray Villafane from Bellaire is hands-down the most talented of all carvers Ive ever seen. Downstate theres Tom Nardone of extremepumpkins.com and Douglas St. Souver, both incredibly talented guys. I consider myself very fortunate to be counted amongst them as pumpkin sculptors.
NE: So is it competitive?
Harrison: None of us are rivals; were just guys who share a love for carving. Its funny that when I tell people up here what I do, they say youre that guy who does the big pumpkins, and I say no, thats Ed Moody, and then they say oh, youre the guy that sculpts sand and won the Food Network Challenge, and I say no, thats Ray. Its hard being the new guy, but Im developing a following up here.
NE: Okay, you said you started carving by accident, but how did you start carving professionally?
Harrison: I got my start in Oakland County living in Ortonville. I stopped at a pumpkin farm one day and my then girlfriend told the farmer I sculpted pumpkins. He asked me to do one for him and once he saw my work offered me a deal: if Id sit at his pumpkin farm and carve as an attraction on weekends in October, hed give me all the free pumpkins I wanted and also allow me to sell them. I never thought anything would come of it, but the Oakland Press came out to do a story one day on the farm, and saw me there and ended up putting me in the paper. Then WDIV in Detroit asked me to carve live on their station on Halloween, and I did that three years in a row. Things snowballed after that and here, 10 years later, Im doing it full time and having a ball.
NE: Are you the same Pat Harrison who plays music around the area?
Harrison: Yes, I am a folk and blues harmonica performer; so between music and carving Im living the dream.
NE: So after Halloween and pumpkin season ends do you carve anything else?
Harrison: I carve fruit and vegetables.My big thing after Halloween is carvings that can be cooked and eaten, and Ill be doing hubbard squash turkeys for Thanksgiving and Santa Clauses for Christmas. My theory is that as long as I work with food, Ill never be a starving artist, and I tell kids that its not just OK to play with their food, I highly recommend that they do.
NE: You are pretty popular at kids events not just for your carvings but your storytelling.
Harrison: I live in a berm house, meaning that two-thirds of it is underground and we call it the cave. I paint a pretty vivid picture in childrens minds when I tell them I live in a cave in the north woods and carve pumpkins for a living and sit on the roof at night listening to coyotes. When you sit on my roof youre sitting in the yard. I live between Maple City and Glen Arbor and share a home with my mother Sally, who is also an artist and a live-in guinea pig for many of my cooking experiments.
NE: So describe a typical day for a pumpkin carver.
Harrison You dont really grow up planning to be a pumpkin sculptor, it just happened that way. I get to travel to different places and meet new people every day and I absolutely love my life. A typical day for me consists of rising after four hours of sleep, and while getting dressed I watch Its the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown every day! It gets me in the mood. Then I make coffee and pack for the next show. Some of them are up to 250 miles away. My day consists of making my appearance that day wherever Im carving, packing up, and heading for the next show. I always show up at a new gig with two fresh pre-carved pumpkins, so that means I either return home or go to my motel and carve until the wee hours of the morning. I have been going nonstop for the past two months and have already easily carved over 300 pumpkins. Its a crazy schedule and I had bookings 23 of the first 26 days of October, but Im up to the task and spend all year waiting for pumpkin season to return.
To contact Pat Harrison call 231-228-7355.