Pumpkin carvers endure ‘guts’ for glory at Big Fresno Fair

Children, parents and grandparents alike squished their fingers around the insides of pumpkins Sunday afternoon on the last day of the Big Fresno Fair, culminating a fall celebration with laughter and a carving contest inside the fair’s Home Arts Building.

Pumpkin carving was one of the growing number of live contests held at Home Arts. About 15 to 20 people gathered at tables to see what they could create as more than 200 people made their way through the building to watch the pumpkin carving and take in other home arts – such as baked goods, home decor and quilts – that were on display.

Evelyn Moore, 8, was helping her grandfather Tom Moore carve a nontraditional witch, complete with carrot toes and a smaller pumpkin in her mouth.

“We had to take all the stuff out. It’s really gross, but you get your hands all dirty,” Evelyn said.

Tom Moore said his family has been coming to the fair for more than 30 years now, and it’s become a family tradition. And the pumpkin carving?

“We don’t know how any of it will turn out, but by the end of the day we’ll have fun,” Moore said.

Evelyn has been at the fair nearly every day it opened Oct. 7. She said she placed grand champion in the livestock contest for her goat.

This year, fair officials added a savory chocolate contest, a barbecue cooking contest and a live pie and cake contest, with the festivities rounding out with a pumpkin-carving contest open to children and adults. The pumpkin carving champs were Lauren Main and Lyndsey Shipman. For their efforts, the fair awarded them $10.

“We wanted to have more live activities going on, but to get more participation we wanted to bring in live contests,” said Darlene Chardukian, one of the home arts workers who oversaw the pumpkin carving contest. “Last week we had a gingerbread contest, and this week is a pumpkin carving contest. It’s really about the kids using their imagination. We had three contests going on yesterday.”

Darryl and DeeAnn Mason have been making the pumpkin carving contest, now in its third year, a new tradition for their family.

“We’ve been coming (to the fair) for years, for as long as I can remember,” DeeAnn Mason said. “I grew up with it. My kids grew up with it, and when we did the contest last year it became a part of us.”

This moment for Mason has been a year in the making. As soon as she finished her pumpkin last year, Mason already had an unusual idea for the next. Although the fair provided pumpkins for contestants, the Masons got dispensation to bring their own – a super-sized pumpkin to accommodate their plans.

She and her husband, a mechanical engineer, hollowed out their pumpkin and placed inside it a glass fishbowl complete with live goldfish, swimming incandescent in the Christmas-tree light. With the addition of two antennas, a lighting system and even little nozzles at the front, the “pumpkin fish TV” was complete.

“I researched about the fish, to make sure the light wouldn’t hurt them,” Mason said. “I guess I’m just a creative person. I like doing creative things. I decorated a Christmas tree here and have had a table.”

Amid pumpkin guts strewn about the floor, parents and children sawing away at little bits of orange flesh, candles glistening inside each creation (and even a goldfish or two), Chardukian said the Home Arts Building brings out imagination in everyone.

“It brings a lot of spectators, pumpkin carving families, people wandering around the fair. It’s very exciting,” Chardukian said. “It gives people the inspiration to want to do something more than just watch TV.”

For kids, Mason said, the fair is a chance to do more than just look at animals and ride the attractions – it’s a chance to immerse themselves in tradition.

“I think it’s both the history and the culture,” Mason said. “It gives the kids an outlet to see things they wouldn’t normally see.”

Megan Ginise: 559-441-6614