- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) - For Willy Tuz, wandering through a pumpkin patch is akin to Michelangelo visiting the marble quarries of Carrara. When choosing the just-right pumpkins for his art, Tuz goes straight to the source: the pumpkin field where they lie, ripe for the picking.

He drives out to the pumpkin patch at Moon Farm outside of Fruita, grabs a cart and starts roaming the field, searching for the pumpkins that speak to him. He picks each one up from the wizened vines and envisions what’s inside, assessing its potential as he taps on it gently, hearing and feeling the depth of the flesh.

He talks to the pumpkins, his “babies,” telling them he’ll take care of them and turn them into something beautiful.

The possibilities are endless when Tuz gets his hands on a pumpkin. While many people struggle to hack two triangle eyes and a buck-toothed grin out of the rind, he summons dinosaurs, skulls and zombies from within.

Carefully scraping the orange flesh with clay modeling tools, his favorite double-sided paring knife and a razor-sharp Thai carving knife, Tuz reveals the hidden forms within the pumpkins. Little by little, patiently shaving layers away, a face emerges from the slick flesh.

Watching Tuz work, patiently scraping away cell by cell to reveal eyeballs, a mouth and nose, is rather relaxing. He talks to himself sometimes, softly muttering, “There’s a little wrinkle,” much like painter Bob Ross would mention a little woodland creature appearing at the edge of a stand of trees in a landscape.

Tuz, 36, learned the art of culinary carving while working on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. He met a Thai chef who taught him the basics, and Tuz practiced carving radishes in his room in his spare time.

It took a while for him to work up to pumpkins, especially since pumpkin carving isn’t traditional back in Cancun, Mexico, where Tuz grew up. People focused on el Día de los Muertos, not Halloween. So when he came to the United States, a whole new world of carving possibilities revealed itself every fall.

For the past 10 years, he has anticipated pumpkin season every year and is constantly thinking of new ways to take his carvings one step further.

Now, Tuz squeezes as much carving as he can manage with his own business named Willy’s Wild Carvings and his job managing the IHOP, where people bring him weird fruits and vegetables to carve for fun.

Although watermelons are his favorite media (because of the color variation between shades of greens, white and pink), Tuz looks forward to fall because of the great pumpkin.

“My wife loses the kitchen every year at Halloween,” he said, laughing. “I take it over with the pumpkins.”

Tuz admits that carving his first pumpkin a decade ago was rough. He accomplished it with a huge, unwieldy kitchen knife and it took him hours to hack out two triangle eyes and a triangle nose. But he managed to shape the teeth realistically, and improved from there.

Now, he busts out a detailed Tyrannosaurus Rex with bulging eyes and gnashing teeth in less time than he took on that first pumpkin.

Some of his inspiration comes from movies or characters from horror films. Sometimes it comes from the “boss,” Tuz’s 8-year-old son, little Willy, who urges his dad, “You should do it, dude!”

Sometimes an idea comes from looking at his own expressions in the mirror, making silly faces. If he wants to carve a face where the character is getting poked in the eyeball, Tuz makes that face and then focuses on getting every little wrinkle in the expression carved into the pumpkin. This explains why some of the faces he coaxes from the orange flesh bear a resemblance to Tuz himself.

Even when he’s not working on a carving, Tuz is always thinking about the potential within vegetables. He can’t resist carving an apple if he’s going to eat it anyway, because it’s therapeutic.

Even when he’s not carving vegetables, he draws scary things on other vegetables and fruits his wife brings home from the grocery store. “My favorites right now are zombies,” he said. “I think it’s an addiction.”

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Information from: The Daily Sentinel, http://www.gjsentinel.com

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