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“Picasso of Pumpkins” visits Del Val students


The Picasso of Pumpkins was the first in the 2018-19 visiting artist series at Delaware Valley Regional High School.

On Oct. 22, Tomas Gonzales of Franklin Township, Warren County, N.J., held forth in Studio C111, giving art and architecture students a rundown on his career and his approach to artwork.

He studied fine art at Syracuse University, but then backed off to study anthropology in order to gain a deeper understanding of people, their cultures, their values, and the styles and the image-making that grew from those things.

Although a lot of his work has been whimsical, he said that art “is a serious business. … You want to understand your material, your subject, and the psychology. You have to your homework.”

For much of his career – 20 years of it – he worked for AT&T doing an amazingly wide range of artwork. For example, he designed logos, made motivational posters, produced brochures, designed booths for trade shows, made caricatures of employees about to retire and crafted wooden models of equipment that had not yet been produced in plastic-and-metal.

As a freelancer, he has drawn pictures for the Bronx Zoo of animals they don’t have; illustrated children’s books; and depicted surgical procedures for the Journal for the Royal Society of Medicine.

But Gonzales’ current seasonal specialty grew from his fatherly efforts to amuse his three daughters. One year he carved a pumpkin for each one and set them up on a bridge leading toward his house. The sound of the brook, the “lacy twigginess of the branches” overhead, made a wonderful setting. The bridge has 10 support posts, so the next year he made 10 jack-o-lanterns. And even though “it all ends up on the compost heap,” he has spent decades lavishing time and talent on a succession of pumpkins. Eager to attempt the new and difficult, Gonzalez even made a list of elements he wanted to work into his carvings, such as chainmail, feathers, jewels and plaids.

He made a Lady Liberty jack-o-lantern in 2001 and presented it to firefighters near Ground Zero. He carved a firefly into a pumpkin and then thinned out the inside of the shell to give the bug a glowing back trail like a comet’s tail. He carved a huge eye into each of a pair of pumpkins, so when they were hidden in the bushes it seemed that a huge monster was lurking in the darkness. He has engraved portraits of Edgar Allan Poe, Cleopatra and Robert Burns into pumpkins. Deep inside his “Cry Baby” jack-o-lantern’s mouth is a uvula (that little punching-bag thing where the throat begins). His grinning cat shows off a luckless mouse inside. To see his collected works, Google “Tomas pumpkins.”

Gonzales showed the students the two tools with which he performs 90 percent of his pumpkin work – a small gravy ladle and a fluting knife.

The ladle is for working the inside of the pumpkin shell. Its handle is bent so it wraps around a finger so it won’t slip away in pumpkin slime. The fluting knife has a small, pointy triangular blade, capable of delicate exterior work.

His extravagantly creative jack-o-lanterns support his thesis that “the artist’s job is to find the magic in the ugly, mundane or banal, and to wake us up to see things in ways we’ve never seen before.”

Del Val art teachers Sarah Ruppert and Jason Farnsworth are in the process of lining up monthly visits by local creatives for the rest of 2018-19.

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