“The Last Voyage of the Whaler Recompynse 1810” …2010 Pumpkin Carving

Pumpkin Carving copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

Last Voyage of the Whaler Recompynse

This year’s pumpkin started with an idea to play off a basic human fear: the vastness of the open ocean. What could feel more overwhelming than being in the middle of the Pacific, in a small boat, at night?

Pumpkin Carving copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

...a bit further around to the right, and we can see the tall-masted Whaling Ship 'Recompynse', in full sail, under attack from other 'ships', or flying saucers.

It plays off the idea of “aliens”.  On the rear of the pumpkin is a pair of whales, escaping the whalers (men in ships) who are themselves being attacked by ships from another world. Exactly who are the aliens here?  Just as a whale is plucked and taken from its habitat, so are the men being harvested.  A little recompense being paid by the men of the Recompynse.

The center of the composition is a longboat, being lifted into the mothership by a tractor beam, men falling or hanging by ropes as the longboat levitates into oblivion.

Copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

The men of Longboat No.1 are lifted to their demise, into a flying ship they could not begin to fathom. One man hangs by a rope, a man outside the tractor beam is falling, and one at top is soon to be the first to meet his fate.

I think I enjoy most the man at the front of the longboat, rowing frantically in vain.  The highlights that define his back and hands are nothing more than a few rounded gouges in the pumpkin. This part of the image was inspired by the fantastic image from the label on a bottle of Maudite…

pumpkin carving copyright Jeff Stikeman

The men of The Whaler Recompynse, in longboat No.2, watch helplessly, transfixed and in fear, as their comrades are raised from the water, never to be seen again. They know now perhaps how the whale feels when one of its own is taken from the water, from close beside it, by men in ships from another world.

My favorite part about this detail is the hat of the man standing at far right, and the way the tractor beam glows, with the glare from the beam partly covering the waves in front of the boat.

copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

A pair of whales escaping their attackers. At left, the tail of a diving humpback. At right, between two clouds, is the spout and arcing back of a humpback rising for a breath, before diving again in the escape.

This year it was a full panorama around the pumpkin. Impossible for me to stitch together even a few decent images, so it must be shown in feeble detail shots.  I have made a test image here> Whaler Recompynse in 360° (which will open a flash-based movie in another page) where you can click and drag all the way around, rotating the pumpkin as you like.  You can also tilt it downward to see the top, and rotate that as well. It is as close as I can get to capturing the effect, although the lighting in person is much subtler, and the detail reads far better. (Right now the file has a ‘trial’ watermark on it.  If you think the interaction is any good, I might buy a full copy and re-do it.  Let me know what you think)

A hand-held movie, with appropriately cheesy Halloween Sound effects, is here > The Whaler Recompynse

For me, this isn’t “carving” in the sense of sculpture.  I have seen (and am in awe of) the fantastically expert carvings of Ray Villafane, whose pumpkins are I think undeniably the best carved pumpkin sculptures ever done.  But for me this is less about  sculpture than it is about using the pumpkin as a 2D lantern, with effects from light and dark and shading, made by carving the image to differing depths.  The deeper you go, the brighter it gets.  It’s a physical negative in a sense.

copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

"The Last Voyage of the Whaler Recompynse, 1810" ...the obligatory "room lights on" photograph.

As we all perhaps enjoyed when children,  when you turn out the lights and add a candle inside, it should be transformed from one thing into another.  The pumpkins I do tend to look very strange when the room lights are up.  We take one to a party every year where they set the pumpkins  in a corner of the room which is fully lit, for a pumpkin carving contest.  You can’t look at this in a room with lights on and find anything to recommend it. With lights on it looks like a hideous blob of pale orange, incomplete and half done.  I always feel foolish putting it on the table with the others because frankly no one can tell what the heck it’s supposed to be, and no amount of my explaining will do the trick…  I shudder, too, when people try to take a photo, because if the flash goes off, you see none of the lantern effect.  And if there’s no flash, you get a blurry orange smudge.  But that’s exactly what I like about it all.  It can’t really be captured well.  Just like the sand arches, it’s not meant to last, and it really is meant to be seen in person.  It’s fleeting fun.

Here’s last year’s pumpkin, too.  Frankenstein’s Lab

Hope you had a great Halloween.



Filed under Self Commissioned

11 responses to ““The Last Voyage of the Whaler Recompynse 1810” …2010 Pumpkin Carving

  1. Leah H

    Hi Jeff,
    I found your post just today– you were featured in a pumpkin-carving roundup from the guys at How to Be a Dad (http://blogs.babble.com/babble-voices/night-of-the-living-dads-charlie-capen-andy-herald/2012/10/18/the-10-best-pumpkin-carvings/#1-nosferatu). I saw your name on the photo credit and thought it sounded familiar. A quick check of your “about me” page, and I had to wonder if you used to live in the oldest house in your 350-year-old town north of Boston. Guess where I live.

    • Hi Leah. Thanks for the mad props, as the kids today like to say…
      Yeah, you guessed it. For about 5 years we lived there. I’ll tell you, the ONLY disappointment was that NO ONE came by on Halloween. Maybe because it’s the only house on that side of the street, and/or everyone thinks it’s a closed-up museum.

      My wife liked to (still does, actually) hand out full sized chocolate bars (full size Hershey’s, Kit-Kats, etc.). Our first Halloween there, and we got maybe two kids. The last one at 9 o’clock got the whole bowl dumped into his bag. Made his night.

      A couple Halloween anecdotes related to the H.H…. No joke, we had blood red liquid running down the walls of the East Room (lower level, as well as an infestation of flies. Ever see the Amityville Horror? Like that. No joke. It was the day before Halloween though, could only have been better on the 31st. True story, and I’ll explain it if we ever meet. Believe it or not, there was a totally logical reason for both.

      The other story involved our pumpkins. Before we had children, we would do four or five pumpkins every year like these. I actually did one of the H.H., lit up windows, the two massive sycamore trees, everything. We had them out on a bench in front of the house, lit up. One night, going to bed around 10pm, I went down to take them in and shut things off for the night. I opened the door, and there were a group of kids in hoodies kneeling down. One said (this is the single most heartfelt compliment I ever got re: the pumpkins) “Dude. We came over to smash these, but they were too awesome to destroy. We’re just checking them out . Have a great night”. And they waved and walked away.

      Enjoy your time there. Nothing like it. Best spot on the lake…. Parade and fireworks, too.
      Thanks again.
      Jeff Stikeman

  2. Hello Jeff,
    very nice work, and ethos.
    If you get this message in a bottle, I would like to hear back from you with view to commissioning some sketches.



  3. nic010205

    I came here from another blog. This is stunning and quite a lot of fun at the same time.

  4. maddoghoek100


    I am a fan. I found your blog after seeing the posting on Serious Eats. You are right, Ray V is in a class all his own, but i think you are the only guy out there doing anything of this quality with the look of woodcut etchings. They really are highly technical and the range and depth of color change you achieve is quite astounding. You definitely keep raising the bar for the rest of us.

    • Thanks maddog…
      For me, it’s about the whole “lantern” aspect of a Jack-O’-Lantern, rather than sculpting. Your comment about the woodcuts is pretty apt, too. The pumpkins (in daylight) often look like print-block dies or negatives. In fact, I actually use linoleum cutters for much of the work, which are left over from a few printing projects many years ago.

      Thanks for the comment.

  5. that is amazing. you are in a league of your own when it comes to pumpkin carving.

  6. Thanks for the kind words, Sharon.
    Things are going good. Busiest month ever… I think things are turning around.


  7. Sharon Steinberg

    Very interesting and beautiful stuff on here Jeff, I am very impressed. That is one detailed pumpkin- and the binding work is superb 🙂 Hope all is well.

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