Pumpkins and Lanterns at Van Cortlandt Manor

Alix and I dragged the kids up to Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton on Hudson recently to see their annual pumpkin extravaganza. Aside from this hilarious seasonal confection, I diligently documented a few lights on the 18th Century house, lovely punched tin and glass examples of rural style, which are less common in my work than citified examples.

The house also has a beautiful, very tall, Dutch front door, shown here with my nine year old Eugene, for scale.

I apologize for the strangely half-lit photos but we visited at night, which brings me to the main event of this post.

Every year Van Cortlandt Manor enlists the help of a team of artists and artisans to carve thousands of pumpkins and “Funkins” (more on this later), groups them in thematic arrangement around the grounds and paths, lights them, and invites the public. The results are otherworldly.

We spoke to one of the carvers who was demonstrating the technique of gradual subtractive carving, which uses clay loops to sculpt the pumpkins in three dimensions, and relies on the gradations of translucence resulting from the differences in wall thickness to produce subtle designs. They resemble large, orange tinted, lithophanes. There are also tons of traditionally pierced-carved pumpkins. With the faint but discernible smell of overripe pumpkins in the air, I asked about how long they can keep the display up, do they have to replace pumpkins, and they keep the delicate and intricate designs from collapsing in a squashy mess. The answer in many cases is: “Funkins”. Funkins are a species of artificial foam pumpkin, albeit molded from real pumpkins, that won’t rot or collapse and that are indeed individually carved by the team. Well, I suppose that makes some practical sense. Nevertheless, while it leaves the pumpkins stiff and perky for many nights of fun to come, it left me slightly deflated.

-David Calligeros

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