Kate Hinds is an Associate Producer for WNYC News. She also reports for WNYC and Transportation Nation, a public radio reporting project that combines the work of multiple newsrooms to provide coverage of how we build, rebuild and get around the nation.
Political Pumpkins Popping Up
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
New York, NY —
Reporter: When you want to display your enthusiastic support for a candidate, you can pin a button to your coat; slap a bumper sticker on your car; tape a sign to your window. Or you can do what these two women are doing: carve a Barack O’Lantern.
Women: I hope this doesn’t break…watch your fingers--now go this way!
Reporter: Jazel Cuyan and Tomiko Cary are bent over a pumpkin with a paper stencil plastered to the side.
Women: We’re carving out the B in the name Obama. O as in hope
Reporter: They downloaded it from yeswecarve.com, a pro-Obama web page which provides stencils and organizes BYOP events—that’s “bring your own pumpkin.” And they’re here in a SoHo loft to participate in a Yes We Carve event. But Jazel and Tomiko are first-time carvers, and some of the letters in the name Obama are giving them fits. Women: But the O is difficult, and then when you push it out, it’s kind of hard—do we push inward or outward? We have a crisis with the B! The M was the easiest, because there’s less curvature.
Reporter: But their pumpkin is fairly straightforward when compared to that of an NYU student named Jessica, who is slicing away to create Obama’s face.
How hard is this?
Jessica: This one? Very!
Reporter: Her pumpkin looks a little bizarre, with a lot of seemingly random cuts that don’t really add up to a decipherable design. But put a light in it—and that pumpkin is transformed.
Women: It looks a lot better lit up. Wow, with the light it looks like him!
Reporter: As it turns out, good lighting is everything. And no one understands that better than celebrity pumpkin carver (and Chelsea Market resident gourd artist) Hugh McMahon. He’s brought two minutely detailed Obama and McCain pumpkins to display. He’s created them by carving into the pumpkin’s skin, and the effect is like a photographic negative. It’s intricate work.
Hugh McMahon: I would say the McCain was tougher, getting those jowls right was a little difficult. But I think I halfway solved it.//I think the Obama went smoother, but I’m an Obama supporter, so I guess you’d say he’s my favorite. And I do think the likeness came out a little better on him than the McCain, but I do like the McCain.
Reporter: The truth is that while these carvings are remarkable likenesses, neither candidate looks particularly handsome when rendered in pumpkin. Or should I say in ‘funkin,’ because McMahon’s used artificial Styrofoam pumpkins for these two carvings. Obama’s ears are rather large, and McCain is looking shiftily to his right. But that’s a deliberate choice. Because McMahon is not just carving political pumpkins, he’s engaging in political commentary.
Hugh McMahon: I consider the Obama the optimistic candidate, where he’s young and pleasant, while McCain is worried about him over on the right. But if you remember too, that’s pretty much how it went during the debates, McCain was always looking in different directions, and Obama was straightforward there, giving his point of views clearly, and I’m trying to capture that feeling in the carving.
Reporter: Of course political pumpkinry isn’t unique to Democrats, and a quick internet search revealed plenty of McCain and Palin pumpkins. But there seem to be far more Obama-themed ones out there. It doesn’t hurt that the Obama campaign—unlike McCain’s--has a recognizable graphic—the signature red, white and blue sunrise “O.” But regardless of your political persuasion, Hugh McMahon offered some tips. Pumpkin carving, like politics, is messy – so spread out some old newspapers before you start. Carve from the bottom, not the top—it makes lighting easier and preserves your design when decay inevitably sets in. And spray your finished carving with lemon juice. But most importantly, express yourself.
Hugh McMahon: Get away from the triangle eyes and try to do something new and different.