When he first visited the Bucks County Pumpkinfest five years ago, Matt Derby knew right away that he wanted to enter the carving competition.
He finally got his chance this year, joining 20 other carvers under bright sunshine and warm temperatures at the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works in Doylestown. Starting at noon and working diligently with his wife Erin’s guidance, Derby carefully carved away at the gigantic pumpkin, slowly revealing the familiar American Gothic scene with a decidedly zombie look.
“I love Halloween,” said the Newtown resident and art teacher at Bordentown Middle School in New Jersey. “It’s a big part of my life. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a while.”
Three hours into his carving -- and with another three to go -- Matt Derby pronounced the artwork ahead of schedule. His wife, however, wasn’t so sure.
“When we practiced at home, it took four or five hours just to do the faces,” she said.
A few feet away in the Pumpkin Gallery, Tim Petrosky, of Perkasie was having similar doubts about his progress. Like Derby, Petrosky was participating in his first Pumpkinfest competition. He leaned forward to stretch his aching back as onlookers admired his “Grumpy Old Man” carving.
“I usually carve 10 or 15 pumpkins a year,” he said. “But never on this scale.”
Petrosky was pleased to be assigned the ugliest pumpkin supplied by Frederick J. Slack Farm in Forest Grove. The rotten spot on the left side made for a perfect sun spot, he said, while the skin lines made a realistic entry into face wrinkles.
Pumpkin carving is just one aspect of the Bucks County Pumpkin Fest, now in its 20th year and sponsored by the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania and the Bucks County Department of Parks and Recreation. It is billed as the largest two-day drug- and alcohol-free event of its kind in Pennsylvania.
By early Saturday afternoon, hundreds of people strolled the Tile Works property listening to live music, munching on goodies sold by vendors, taking horse-drawn wagon rides, or playing on the inflatable rides.
Rich Lettero of Jamison sat on a bale of hay, listening to “old timey mountain music and more” by the band Poor Mouth and holding his sleeping grandson, Charlie.
“We come here every year,” said Lettoro, as his wife Lisa wandered with two other grandkids. “We want them to enjoy all the good things Bucks County has to offer.”
While the Derbys and Tim Petrosky are newbies at Pumpkinfest, Barbara and John Randa have been at it for 19 years, having missed only the first one. A few years ago, they won the Malloy Award for Most Outstanding and Original Carving. The award is named for Kevin Malloy, who participated in the first 12 Pumpkinfest Galleries before his untimely passing in 2004. Molloy’s final carving at Pumpkinfest was awarded first place.
As she carved away at her Chinese Dragon Vase, Barbara Randa said it’s a labor of love for their kids.
“They wouldn’t let me quit if I wanted to,” she said with a laugh. “They would take my head off.”
Pumpkinfest will continue on Sunday, from noon until 9 p.m., rain or shine. Admission is $5 for adults, and $3 for children 12 and under. Children under 2 are free.
Sunday's activities include live music on the Main Stage by Radio Disney (1 p.m.), Steve Pullera and His Cool Beans Band (3 p.m.), Mike Miller (4:15 p.m.), Ernie & Neil (5:15 p.m.) and Eddie Stanojev & The Ones (7:15 p.m.).
The People’s Choice Award for pumpkin carving will be announced at 7 p.m.